Ashes to Go, the imposing of ashes on individuals in public places, the subway, bus stops, train stations is the growing phenomenon grabbing the attention of many churches, even the Roman Catholic church despite their official teaching that ashes should be received within a church, during a service with Scripture, prayer and calls for repentance.
While it’s vital to remember that church is not about what goes on within the walls of a building, As an Episcopalian and future priest, I still remain on the fence on the subject.
The proponents say it’s a way to meet people where they are in the world, a time to meet workers, students and people on the go while they go about their daily routine. I guess in a way I agree with this. Perhaps I hope that people who see this ritual being performed at the local Starbucks will enter into a small moment of awareness or awakening that gets them out of their rigid daily routine and opens them and makes room for God.
There are certainly a lot of things that we only do in church that we should take outside to the streets. I suppose this day, Ash Wednesday is another one of those things. Life is short and in the midst of the daily rush many people need that reminder even more. But I still wonder: If we can make time to hit the gym, run errands and micro-manage every moment of our fast paced lives, shouldn’t we be able to schedule a half hour to make time for God and ourselves by visiting a church? To enter into a space of quiet and gather together in worship to reorient ourselves, allowing ourselves the time to reflect on our lives, our actions and our faith.
Life is already too fast paced. I need this time of meditation and preparation in my spiritual life. For me, receiving ashes as I run from one errand to another doesn’t allow for this time of preparation. In this era of constant contact and over scheduling, wouldn’t we be better prepared by recognizing that we need time away from our daily lives and enter into the Holy season of Lent by immersing ourselves into a setting which can guide us into a space for reflection and prayer.
Going out into the world, our mortality evident by the ashes on our forehead is a powerful statement of faith for others to see. It is more than a symbol of personal piety, it bears witness to the world that we acknowledge through our faith our mortality and the promise of eternal life. We are an Easter people, perhaps we can somehow find a way to impose a more open invitation into our churches somehow.An invitation to enter into quiet preparation, into community. A place where folks will know by our actions that, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”