Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Dust Thou Art, to Dust Returneth
There's a lot of pro-and-con about Ashes to Go, which is basically taking the prayers and imposition of ashes to the streets for any and all who want them. The pro-folk believe it to be a worthy evangelism effort, going to where people are - commuter stations, street corners, grocery stores - rather than requiring them to show up at a given time and given place. The con-folk believe that it is a cheap short-cut and that the imposition of ashes means nothing if you haven't fully confessed your sins (bewailed the manifold) and been granted absolution by a clergy-type.
Before I go any farther with this, I would like to lodge a protest against the name "Ashes to Go," which does smack heartily of the flip, the easy, the wink-wink-nudge-nudge. But I'll let that go. Here's where I stand on it. Meh. I can go either way. Ash Wednesday is way bigger than which method I use to get ashed. Yeah, I'll probably stick with the tried-and-true service from here on out, but my manifold sins feel no less bewailed (I don't need the Prayer Book for that) or my dusty beginnings and endings any less internalized because I opted to have myself reminded of them on the streets of New York rather than in a church.
Last year, I assisted one of our priests with Ashes to Go at 42nd and Lexington. We had a goodly number of folks line up for the prayer and ashes. All took it very seriously and were grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate their faith. The most memorable were a couple of down-and-out men, who solemnly received the ashes and prayers, said bless you, and seemed genuinely moved that someone had prayed with them and given them the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads. Who knows what it meant to them? But maybe it was the first time in a long while that someone had said a prayer with and for them. Maybe it was the first time someone had touched them in a positive way.
So here's the thing. If you don't like or approve of the Ashes to Go concept, don't go that route. If you want to try it, go ahead. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return, whether in a formal worship service or on busy city streets.