Today is a conundrum for me. A day of decision. A day that leads to the cross for many is leading to a crossroad for me.
It’s Ash Wednesday, the day liturgical Christians recognize the beginning of Lent by going to church and receiving smudges of ash on their foreheads as they are reminded: “From dust thou art, to dust thou shall return.”
When I was a low church Protestant kid, I was mesmerized by the Catholic and Anglican kids who came to school with smudges on their foreheads, talking about ashes and Lent and giving up things and preparing for Easter. It seemed like a deep mystery, an ancient rite. My church didn’t have any mystery and was very suspicious of rites.
When I became an adult, I pursued the mystery, leaving my rite-less denomination for the smells and bells of the Roman church. My first Ash Wednesday was a really big deal. Getting smudged meant more than just “from dust to dust.” It meant I was entering Lent, which was the portico of my entrance into the church at the Easter vigil. When I would be a real legitimate member with all rights (and rites) and privileges. It was a very, very big deal.
I have always loved Ash Wednesday – the start of a period of reflection, of preparing, of forgiveness, of seeking holiness and searching for truth.
Now things are much different.
Last year, I started to doubt the veracity of all of this, of everything I had built my life on. God. Jesus. The Bible. Salvation. The Holy Spirit. Heaven. Hell. Revelation.
I stopped seeing real meaning in the things I had always loved. Smells. Bells. Liturgy. Prayers. Hymns. Rites. Communion.
I didn’t choose this. I didn’t choose to lose my faith. I didn’t get angry with the church or anyone in it. I wasn’t trying to justify doing something heinous. I wasn’t being influenced by anyone to give up my faith. It just happened.
For months, the thought of losing the entire foundation of my life scared me more than I can describe.
Recently I stopped being afraid. It feels good. I was starting to accept my new state of being. But now I have to deal with Ash Wednesday….
This is the first Ash Wednesday in memory when I do not want to go to church. The only part I believe anymore is the part about coming from dust and returning to dust. That much is verifiable.
There is a part of me that wants to give God another chance during Lent 2015. A part of me that wants to throw myself fully into the Lenten experience, to go to Ash Wednesday service and receive the reminder of my humanity on my forehead, to pray and read and study fervently, to do all the prescribed things in preparation for the celebration of Easter, to open my mind and my heart for divine inspiration in hopes that the foundation of my life will be restored.
The rest of me just wants to slap a Chiquita Banana sticker on my forehead a la Penn Jillette and call it a day.
So what’s it going to be? Do I go to Ash Wednesday services and pursue God one more time? Do I go just to keep up appearances while keeping my faithlessness secret and to myself? Or do I decide to be honest and admit I don’t believe in any of this anymore?
The first – a last ditch effort to see if God is real or if I can overcome my disbelief – would take a lot of energy and time. I’m not sure if I even care that much anymore, but I’m willing to try one more time for the sake of my family.
The second would be the easiest. Pretend. Go along. Keep up appearances. Be a creepy hypocrite, true to neither what I feign or what I am. Be a fraud. Lie. Boy, that sounds attractive…
The third would be the hardest. If I admit to the world that I no longer believe, it will be hell on earth for me. I will no longer have the choice of whether to talk about it or not. It will be out there and cannot be retrieved. I will have a lot of explaining to do. I will have hundreds of people pounding me with questions and praying for me and crying over me and worrying about my eternal destination. It will impact every single relationship I have. Every. One. Maybe even to the point of loss.
is it possible to wear both ashes and banana stickers?
*Sigh* – I don’t think so. I don’t have long to make a decision about what I’m going to do about today. But we are out of bananas so I’m going to the store…just in case.