Reflections on Ash Wednesday

I’m not sure if it was the fasting and abstinence, the compound effects of getting up early for the past several days, my choice of Lenten sacrifice (more on that tomorrow), or the simple fact that February has been BUSY, but when I sat down to write today’s blog post last night, I just didn’t have it in me. I had several ideas, but no strength to put them into a coherent set of paragraphs. I went to bed, hoping my brain would kick into gear around 5:30 a.m.

Before I drifted off, though, I remembered the post that I wrote last year about Ash Wednesday. Those of  you who are new readers likely haven’t seen it before, so I’m bringing it out of the archives (with an additional postscript) for today. Enjoy.

Courtesy Flickr/jslater316

Wednesday afforded me a rare opportunity: to  go anywhere at all attend Mass without Nathan. Which is to say that I was able to attend Mass without a squirmy, noisy, frustratingly adorable attention hog who cheeses at all parishioners with whom he is able to gain eye contact.

I’ve been hoping for awhile now that the Almighty grades on a curve during the toddler years.

Mr. Andi had an unplanned appendectomy on Tuesday morning and I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t be making it to Ash Wednesday Mass. With an hour to go, though, Mr. Andi offered to ride with us and sit in the car with Nathan while Sarah Kate and I went to Mass (this selfless act brought to you in part by a portable DVD player and a Kindle).

Unencumbered, Sarah Kate and I did something else we never do: sit in the front. As a result, we were among the first people to go forward for the distribution of the ashes, where the priest said to us, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

When we returned to our pew, watching the steady stream of parishioners parade past, I couldn’t help but think about the mortality of each one of us (which, of course, is the whole point). But what I also considered is how we all begin and end in the same way, with the same basic framework – eyes, nose, mouth, legs, arms, heart, brain, and a million other near-identical things that make people human.

But as I continued to watch people walk by, I was also struck by the variety in the room. There were:

  • teenagers in T-shirts and shorts
  • men in business attire
  • young mothers carrying toddlers
  • an elderly gentleman barely mobile with his walker
  • a young girl with Down syndrome

Also among the faithful was a father pushing his adult son, who is profoundly disabled, in his wheelchair, a kid in a little league uniform, a tall redhead, and countless others. Each person that walked by had a different gait, a different build, different facial features, and a (sometimes subtly) different facial expression or countenance.

Sitting in the front of the church, I saw what I was supposed to see – that despite all of the small differences that distinguish each individual from others, we are all fundamentally the same. We are people who were born and who will die. It’s easy to get caught up in daily minutiae and fail to see the beauty in both our differences and our similarities. The front pew gave me the opportunity to sit quietly and see – really see – these similarities and differences.

The next time you find yourself in a place with lots of people, I encourage you to take a few minutes to observe them one by one. We don’t have to attend Mass to appreciate the wondrous tapestry of people.


Postscript: Mr. Andi was delayed leaving work yesterday, so we arrived just as Mass was starting. Since last Ash Wednesday, Sarah Kate has loved sitting in the front, but we had to take what we could find and ended up near the back. In the same way that sitting in the front pew last year caused me to be struck by the individuality of each person receiving their ashes, sitting near the back had the opposite effect.

As I received my own ashes and began to return to my seat, I saw not a group of individuals, but a sea of charcoal crosses on the faces. Our mortality is the thing that unites us all as one; we all need a reminder of that fact now and again so that we never forget to treat our fellow man with grace and kindness.


  1. says

    I like to sit towards the back myself, so I can see everyone going back to their seats (every mass). I also like to sit in the back of my closest church because the priest likes to turn everything into a mass (like ash distribution etc), so I can get out without being noticed.