Ashes: An Awkward Imposition

Ashes: An Awkward Imposition February 15, 2021

Editor’s Note: It’s that time of year again – another Trump impeachment, which ended last Saturday, and another Lent, which starts this Wednesday. Lent has happened for centuries, as has impeachment, but 2021 will “blessedly” be the last impeachment featuring Donald J. Trump. His only possible remaining formal suffering would be civil punishment.  Unlike Lent, which always lasts 40 days, it was only 30 days (1/13/21 – 2/13/21) between the time Trump was impeached by the House and tried and not convicted by the Senate. Still, the sense of relief some of us feel that this chapter is over, could be compared Christian relief that “He is risen” and that self-imposed food restrictions have ended. Hopefully, even those who voted for acquittal are relieved that it’s over, and Trump and his followers realize that they will never be redeemed. /Linda LaScola, Editor


By Rob Ripley

Coming today to a parish hall near you. Pancakes.

Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday precedes Ash Wednesday and the infamous forty days of Lent. Forty, a popular biblical number right up there with seven and three, is associated with Jesus’ alleged forty day wilderness sojourn to figure out what it meant to be Jesus and to do some big time wrestling with the devil.

Christianity keeps Lent as a forty-day run to Easter when the faithful can get their spiritual act together, facing their own demons and figuring out what it means to be Christian.

Once considered “high church” form, Lent has garnered broader appeal as a season to forgo something bad or do something good. Fewer donuts and more charity perhaps.

In southern climes, the Carnival from Twelfth Night to Shrove Tuesday is an orgy of excess with participants tossing inhibitions like clunky beads thrown from parade floats. In more sedate British fashion, inhibitions are lost in the gastronomic blowout of pancakes and sausage and such. Such dietary excess and frenetic revelry form a last gasp of indulgence in sharp contrast to the somber tone of Ash Wednesday.

It’s not that Christianity wants to rain on the parade. It just points out an awkward truth the day after the revelry ends. Party hearty but remember your mortality. For years I would trace ashen crosses on foreheads and intoning solemn words from Genesis,

 “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return”.

It’s not happy news.   It’s not news at all.   It’s life and we have to deal with it.

Death always draws a crowd, mind you. From the big screen to the small screen on our phones, we are faced with a steady stream of tragic ends. But we soon tire of gory murders and demand new meat for our soporific diversions.

I don’t see Ash Wednesday as reveling in the death that is part of life but a statement about the death we bring on ourselves. Refusing to be whom and what we were created to be.

For that we must repent.   We must rethink life.    And that’s where the whole “ashes to ashes” thing holds out hope.

Wearing an ashen smudge on the forehead is an awkward imposition to make us uncomfortable, to remind us not only of our mortality but our failure to be fully alive.

The awkwardness stays only when we insist on toying with death and refuse to see the big picture of a life that is not stuffed with pancakes but brimming with passion, curiosity and joy.

** Editor’s Question: If you have a history as a Christian, how have you observed Ash Wednesday and Lent?


Bio: Bob Ripley was a syndicated religion columnist, broadcaster, former preacher and author of Christian devotional material.  His book, which came out in October 2014 is titled Life Beyond Belief: A Preacher’s Deconversion. Find out more about the book and his other writing here. This blog post is reposted with permission.

>>>>>>>>>>Photo credits: By Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States – blueberry pancakesUploaded by Fæ, CC BY 2.0, ; “<a href=””>Devils-from-Rila-monastery</a>”


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