Today is Ash Wednesday, the day we were all traipsed along to the chapel to get our ashes. I was never quite sure what it was all about. My biggest fear was that the ashes would run down into my eyes. And then there was the whole palaver about what we were to go off for the next few weeks. As children we were told something about Jesus fasting in the desert and that we had to do without sweets or something to show how we wanted to share in his suffering. I had as much interest in sharing in Jesus’ suffering as I had in growing a second head.
So what was it all about? I’m 57 now. I look at the world slightly differently than I did at 10; my parents are gone, one of my children has predeceased me and I see so many of our young having to leave to find work, I have a daughter in Hong Kong and a son in Dublin. My friends and neighbours are out of work, financial worries abound and young families are living in houses worth half of what was paid for them. I realise the indestructible young man of 30 years ago is gone-I realise the world has many knocks.
The ritual of Ash Wednesday means a lot more now. While death is not knocking at my door I battle with high cholesterol and excess weight. The old joints are stiffer, the hearing is not as good and I need glasses. “Remember man that thou art dust and that unto dust thou shall return,” has a certain ring of truth about it. I got married for the second time in September 2010. My best friend who was ten years younger than me was my best man. As I was starting out on a whole new life he was dying. He died in April last year. I take my mortality a lot more seriously now.
Why should we go off something in Lent? I don’t think Jesus needs us to participate in his suffering that much, so what real benefit is quitting drink, chocolates or cigarettes to us? It reminds me of something that I often forget: I am not the centre of the universe, my threshold for sacrifice is very low, and I find out how dependent I am on things to make me feel good. I shall be going off TV for Lent. For 40 days no Dr Who, no News at Six and no murder mysteries. And by Friday of this week I shall see how much I depend upon my daily fix to make me feel good. As St. Paul says “the things I want to do I cannot do, the things I don’t want to do I do”. Lent quickly shows us how little control we have over ourselves. Hopefully as the forty days countdown to Easter I shall learn how hard it is to let go of things and I shall realise more deeply that the world does not revolve around me and how hard it is to let go of things we think we need.
Have a blessed Lent!
Article published in Mid-Ulster Observer, February 22nd 2012