day of ashes

Wednesday, 21 February 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today many religious folks within the Christian faith are celebrating Ash Wednesday, a day that is set aside marking the beginning of Lent and a day to pause to remember our humanity and sinful ways.  There is one particular ritual that sets this day a part from other religious days: the imposition of ashes. 

“From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”

These are words are uttered as the ashes are imposed upon the forehead of the one requesting the ashes.  This has never been part of my tradition, which is baptist [Baptist/baptist/Anabaptist].  I grew up in Texas where my early life of faith was formed by Southern Baptists and then latter in college by quasi-American Baptists and the left-leaning Texas Baptists.  My liturgical calendar was not quite formed!

I attended graduate school on the campus of a United Methodist Seminary/Northwestern University where I was the witness of many rituals, including these Ashes rituals.  Later, while writing my Master’s thesis in Theological Ethics and then following graduate work , I was a chaplain at a hospital where I was the imposer of ashes to Protestants and Catholics!  Not being something that normally or historical practiced [or a ritual that formed me], I became a performer of this ritual to those who requested it.  It was I–me–low church, social justicey me– that uttered “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”

I’m no longer working in a Church or in a ministerial capacity, so I hadn’t even thought about Ash Wednesday!  Again, not being part of my tradition, some of the liturgical days surprise me!  As I departed from my express bus in the Chicago Loop this morning, amidst the hussle and bussle of commuters, taxis, students, and others, I crossed the street just as it was turning Red.  I hurried.  I made it.  I needed to cross one more street so that I could enter my building.  And there, as I crossed underneath the L tracks, my eyes met a middle-aged, white-looking, man bearing the sign of the cross.  On his way to what appeared to be work in his suit, our eyes met as we crossed over Lake Street, and locked.  It was 7:45.  Ashes were imposed; this began his day and it began mine in a different way.  I was a witness to his conviction.  I witness the cross!

You see, when I think about my identity as Christian, I don’t immediately think about my sins.  I recognize that theologians and some our places of community are privileging the conversations regarding social justice moreso now than the “dirty” language of our sinfulness, but perhaps talking about and processing our own “sins” is necessary in achieving a social justice mind?!

When I think about my identity as Feminist, Queer, Chicana, and mixed, I don’t immediately think about my wrongdoings or sin.  I think about how media privileges the masculine experience, how the Religious Right has become the oppressor, and how the U.S. Government continues to masculinze and “white” my world.  I don’t think of these things in theological terms, but per part of my identity as a theologian, perhaps these are sins.  Sins of the other and sins of myself.  I live in this world, am complicit in the governement, am silent when often I need to speak out, am loud when often I need to practice the discipline of wisdom, and am ashamed when I simply need to be proud.

Perhaps when my path crossed this middle-aged, white-looking, man bearing the sign of the cross, my day was queeryied–became queer with the witness of one following the wya of Jesus.  No longer was I [nor the masses] crucified by massive injustice.  No, rather, I was reminded of my ongoing journey…a wandering nomad who oftentimes is struck and empowered by the signs and symbols others bear.

Perhaps today you will give witness to something greater–something queer?  Perhaps I will too!

And yes, from ashes I have come and to ashes I will go…returning to Jesus?  The world that will envelop me?  I don’t know those answers.  For now, I will continue to embody [radical] feminist moves against destructiveness and follow the One who was radical himself and wise in all matters.

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