Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ashes

                Since I was first introduced to mythology and being I went to many different churches growing up, I have always been fascinated by different religious practices.  My favorite mythology is Scandinavian.  In college, my favorite project was a twenty page paper combining the Norse ancient religion and their book the Prose Edda.  My favorite religion is Christianity; however, I have always felt a pull towards Judaism.  I believe to understand my faith better it would behoove me to study the Jewish laws and customs.  The other night at the after party of my daughter’s school’s big fundraising event, I chatted with one of the parents.  This mother grew up Catholic and became Jewish when she married her husband.  Many of the Catholic traditions derive from the Jewish faith.
                The Old Testament can help me in studying Christianity’s roots of faith.  “Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long tunic in which she was clothed….” 2 Samuel 13:19.  The theme of ashes continues in Esther 4:1.  “When Mordecai learned all that was happening, he tore his garments, put on sackcloth and ashes, and walked through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly.”  Daniel used ashes.  “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” Daniel 9:1.  Jesus himself mentions ashes when he reproached towns for not repenting.  “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.” Matthew 11:21.  Our Jewish and Christian faith ancestors have used ashes for mourning and repentance. 
                Ash Wednesday is not in the Bible.  Jesus didn’t celebrate the day.  Many Christians believe that if a practice isn’t in the Bible, it shouldn’t be a part of today’s faith journey.  Maybe they are right.  However, I like the celebration of Ash Wednesday.  The somber tone of repentance of my sins and mourning the death of Christ enables me to begin the walk towards Holy Week.  Now is the time to remember that the nails that went into Jesus on the cross were my fault.  They are your fault.  We put Jesus on the cross because we sin.  It isn’t a pretty sight.  It doesn’t make me feel good inside.  But I need to take responsibility for my part in his death.  Ash Wednesday brings this into perspective for me.
                When my children need discipline, I have hated punishing them.  This is the worst part of parenting.  However, as they grow up, they begin to make better choices because of this discipline.  Now that my sons are becoming young men, I see them disciplining themselves.  My job of parent has led them to look into themselves and build themselves into better people.  To me, this is what Ash Wednesday means to me.  I am an adult in my faith.  I need to apply discipline to become a better follower of Christ.
                The Jews have always been God’s chosen people.  Jesus practiced the Jewish faith, but he added to its richness.  They used ashes and repented.  In the Prose Edda, even the Scandinavians were expected to repent.  “Thor [God of War] declared that Hrungnir should repent….”  Skaldskaparmal: The Poesy of Skalds.  When I go to Mass tonight, I will think of those who have gone before me in repentance and mourning.  They strove to be better children of their God. I will join them in this walk.
                Blessings to you all.

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