Your parting gifts after attending our Ash Wednesday service tomorrow night are two blackish, perpendicular stripes streaking across the most visible space on your body. The stripes will be hastily drawn and thus messy, likely crooked, together forming something that resembles a cross.
For me, the experience is peculiar. We spend considerable time and money grooming, moisturizing, exfoliating, and botoxing our faces in an effort to make the wrinkled smooth, to make right what we think the passing of time made wrong.
And then, surprisingly, for one night we undo all that work. Why? I can't answer for you, but I go to get ashes uncomfortably smudged across my forehead while the ordained offender likens me to nothing. Now. My face is tagged as I'm told that I was "formed from the dust, and to the dust I will return." Can you imagine a more ominous start our forty-day march toward Holy Week?
I go because we all leave looking strange. For a moment we are bound together by something besides our common desire to be thought of as beautiful, good enough. For a moment we are united in our fragility, our need for God not optional.