Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, or if you were raised in the Anglican mix I was, pancake Tuesday. You eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I think it’s something to do with using up the fat in the house before lent, but I truly don’t know. I know it’s a thing I do and a tradition I cling to.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. They day that I go to church and get ashes smeared on my forehead.
I sat in the Anglican Cathedral in Edmonton, and the Bishop talked about going out with a group of clergy to the subway stations in Edmonton to offer the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of commuters.
The Bishop stood way up in the pulpit and talked about a light of recognition in the eyes of people that approached her in her ecclesiastical regalia. She talked about people moving their hair aside and removed their hats and bent their heads down. She talked about the relief of public prayer. They didn’t approach anyone, they simply stood off to the side, and people recognizing what day it was, approached them.
The Bishop stood in her pulpit and she talked about seeing the light in the eyes of commuters, of how those commuters remembered a thing that they once knew. She talked to a group of people in church, thinking that they were not only remembering, but they were actively participating.
I go to a full church service on Ash Wednesday. Most years it is the only day I go.
I return to the words
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
I have no problem with the idea that I am dust and to dust I will return. I have no problem with the litany of repentance, acknowledging the manifest ways I fall short of the glory of God.
I miss a group of people who give up things for lent, I miss the liturgy, the prayers. I miss that for forty days we don’t say “Alleluia” at the end of the service. I miss the tradition that is not so much for me about the tradition, but the solidarity and the hearkening back – the notion that the liturgical year is cyclical and so to is time, at least in some ways. There is nothing new under the sun as the psalms tell me.
And I didn’t have words for why I go to Ash Wednesday, why I go to Evensong at the Cathedral in Victoria on Monday nights. I thought it might be about the comfort of the liturgy, I thought it might be about the peace I felt as I settled in the pew. I thought it might be missing the world of the church.
I miss the community and the connection. But perhaps not so much that I am willing to do more than sit in a pew once a year on Ash Wednesday, and feel a bit fraudulent. Perhaps not so much that at the end of the service I am willing to shake the Bishop’s hand and say “I used to be a regular church attendee. Now I come for this. I think I would like to do more than remember what I used to know, I think I would like to practice it.”
I go back – at least once a year – returning to a remembrance of a thing I used to know.