Wait. What? February?
I’ve been sleepy since December. I’ve been yawning and stretching and snoozing, slow-poking my unpurposeful feet through days of HGTV escapism and too much sugar.
I went to church a few nights ago with a boy, the middle one, the one leaning into Catholicism, and sat with him through the Ash Wednesday service. Prayers and bells and songs and then the invitation to come for the marking with ash.
“Is it just for Catholics?” I whispered to my son.
“It’s a blessing. It’s for anyone,” he said, so I followed him through the crowd and stood in front of a stranger who dipped his fingers into an ash-filled bowl, marked my forehead with an ashen cross, and offered me a word of blessing.
I was prepared to feel something in this new experience. I was expecting some kind of joy or a spiritual something, but I was not ready for the hot prick of tears when his fingers touched my skin. The emotion of being touched unsettled me, even as I smiled and turned and went back to my pew and all the while I wanted to raise my hand to my dirty face.
I stood in my place, all uncatholic and uncertain, and I watched the worshippers around me as they dipped and bowed and kneeled, as they crossed themselves and as they folded their hands in prayer, finger tips together in a steeple, as I did when I was taught to pray in Sunday School.
These are things I’m not used to. I’m not familiar with kneeling for prayer. I’m not comfortable with being touched in church. I’m not experienced in such physical expressions of worship and that is my loss, I think.
Faith-family, back in the day, was a physical thing. Reclining at the table together and holy kisses and washing each others’ feet. Our ancient brothers and sisters exerienced their brotherhood and sisterhood in tangible, touchable ways, and I find myself moved by a thing I didn’t know I was missing.
I’m not criticizing, mind. There are beautiful congregations of worshipful people, living their faith in service-filled ways, and I’ve been blessed to be a part of many of them. It’s not a this -way-is-better-than-that-way thing.
But a few days ago, a stranger-brother in faith marked a dirty cross on my forehead, and I was undone. It woke me up, and today I washed the sleep of inertia out of my eyes and wrote these words for you to read but, mainly, for me to remember.
It’s Lent. I’m walking toward the cross.