One Ash Wednesday a friend of mine went to her local fish and chip shop – a tradition for many people who abstain from eating meat on days of significance in the Catholic calendar. Earlier in the day, she had been to Ash Wednesday Mass where she had received ashes in the sign of a cross on her forehead – another tradition, we Catholics like these things.
Although a little smudged by the time she was ordering dinner later in the day, the black ashes were still noticeable.
“Hey love, you’ve got something on your face,” said the fish and chip shop server to my friend.
“Oh that’s ok,” my friend replied. “They are for Ash Wednesday.”
A look of knowing came across the server’s face.
“Of course,” he said, nodding. “What a nice way to remember the Ash Wednesday bush fires.” [fires in Victoria and South Australia that resulted in tragic losses of homes, buildings, livestock and peoples’ lives in 1983].
My friend did not correct the fish and chip shop server. She nodded politely, ordered her snapper and minimum chips (with pineapple fritter!) and pondered the encounter to herself. [TRUE STORY]
In some ways, the fish and chip shop server got the meaning of Ash Wednesday right. It is a day of remembrance. It prompts us to pause and look at our lives – to remember where we come from and where we are going.
It does not take much to forget who we really are, our true selves; a setback here, a hurt there, a failure over there. Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian Henri Nouwen describes Lent as a time to re-focus and to re-enter a place of truth where we can find our true identity.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of the season of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. Perhaps this Lent, irrespective of your faith background, you could commit to a daily habit of pausing to reconnect with your true self.
This year, as we find ourselves living in particularly challenging times – the heartbreak of COVID, floods and war – the words of Pope Francis’ message for Lent 2022 serve as an encouragement. “Let us not grow tired!”
“Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:9-10)
Perhaps you could be like my friend’s fish and chip shop server and look for signs (maybe more subtle than black marks on people’s foreheads) each day of who you truly are – valued, loved and still a work in progress. And may you not grow tired of living in hope, addressing injustice and doing good!