Last night I got smudged on my forehead….again.
I already shared how this whole Lent thing has been a point of growth for me over the years. The idea that someone would place the sign of the cross in ashes on my forehead just didn’t sit well with me for the longest time. In fact, the first Ash Wednesday service I attended I didn’t go forward to receive them…I just sat in my pew while everyone else formed the line toward the minister. And that was only slightly made more awkward by the fact that I was married to the minister. (He totally respected my perspective, by the way…and I love him dearly for that!) But the fact that I felt the need to dig my heels in, so to speak, when it came to this simple act of submission bothered me. I had to wonder why….
In time I came to understand that for me, it really was a matter of willfulness. I didn’t want ashes smudged on my forehead, and no one was going to impose them on me….even my pastor. To do so would have made me feel….silly, and self-conscious, and conspicuous. I didn’t need to prove my devotion to Jesus, anyway. Certainly not on my forehead!
So the following year I went to the same service determined to “sit this one out” as well. But I didn’t like how I felt about it. Was it really that big of a deal after all? Then I did something that would change the way I felt about those forehead smudges for years to come. I offered my forehead to God. (Stop laughing….I really did.) I decided that if this was such a hard thing for me to do, I would offer it as an act of obedience. Not a theological one, mind you….just a personal one. I didn’t like the stubbornness I felt and trusted God to accept my “forehead offering”, such as it was, and prayed for clarity over the whole affair. So, I joined the line. (And I’d like to deny that I made a b-line to the restroom straight away to wash it off, but that’s pretty much what happened.) There were no heavenly voices singing or bright lights aglowing. Just lots of people with smudges on their foreheads and me with a red scrub mark on mine.
The next year was easier….and the next…and next. (I even started keeping the smudge on until I got home.) Then one year I realized – quite unexpectedly – that I was looking forward to the Ash Wednesday service. Did I learn to love ash on my forehead? Well, no. Not exactly. But what I have learned to really, really love is this intimate ritual of love offering I get to present to Jesus. I love it because I know HE knows how hard it is for me, and yet I give it to him anyway. Hmmmm…..
Jesus gave a most intimate gift to us in a most humiliating way when he hung on that cross. He looked ridiculous. He was made fun of. He wanted to come down, I know he did. He wanted to call heavenly beings and God in all God’s power and authority to rescue him that day. And he could have. But he didn’t…..
So that’s how I came to cherish the ashes on my forehead. And why last night I was at the head of the ash line. And I’ll never forget the words of my pastor as he was calling people forward. He said, “I invite you now to come forward to receive the ashes on your forehead, of if you prefer, on the back of your hand.”
Wait…..now there’s a HAND OPTION? geesh…..
I think I’ll stick with the forehead.