Just when I was very, very sure that I had seen almost, but not quite "everything" ludicrous this Winter, I stumbled across what I think might just be one for my Baby Book.
Today is Ash Wednesday. How it snook up on us so fast I do not know, but it is the beginning of Lent and that means that Easter, Spring, is not all that far away. Six weeks? It may very well take that long for the white blankets to be peeled back and maybe there's a layer of green under there after all.
Now, I do believe in religious freedom, would never comment or condemn one for their beliefs and how they practice their faith unless they crashed airplanes into towers and/or beheaded people, all in the name of Allah. No, I doubt that there's an entrance ticket to Heaven awaiting those folk. But, I do believe in organized religion, in traditional rites and passages and some parts of Lent and the need to use the next six weeks to step things up in the holiness department. If you don't go to church, I will still be your friend, trust me.
So, here's what I saw this morning....in the front entrance to the Star Market in Harwich and every single word of what follows is absolutely true because I could not and would not make this up....I see a woman standing next to a card table. She clearly has received her ashes, there's a huge black cross on her forehead. I think she's maybe selling raffle tickets or asking for some kind of donation or maybe even a survey. Maybe she's handing out flyers for today's specials? So, I read the sign that she has propped up:
ASHES TO GO.
Ashes to go??? Ashes to go!!!!! My face, as you can imagine, gave me away, my surprise and indignation was written all over it. She's a Minister and she's distributing ashes, right here, at the supermarket. So, sweetly, she addressed my need to know more. "It's for people who can't make it to church today." Of course it was. For people who could not make it to church but could make it to Star Market Couldn't help myself from blurting out. I gave a bit of an "oh no!" and walked into the produce department where I caught the ear of the young man who was stacking tangerines. Funny, I think they were called "Halos." I felt so much better after telling him, in a nice and jovial way of course, that what I had just witnessed HAD to be THE most ridiculous thing I've ever seen, at least in a supermarket. We shared a moment and then I went on about my business, collecting the ingredients for an Ash Wednesday dinner. As I exited, the nice clergyperson, who by the way had apparently done some business because there were lots of folk with huge black crosses on their foreheads doing their shopping, smiled and said "have a blessed Lent" to me as I scurried past. "And same to you" I replied. Contrary to what my husband would have thought, I did not stop and discuss why I found this all so ridiculous and so wrong. I did just want to ask one more question. Lady, why are you making it so easy? What ever happened to words like "intention" and "commitment" and "sacrifice"?
If getting anointed with ashes at the start of he Holy Season has any value, it is in giving pause, making the faithful think about death, the journey ahead and the preparation for a death and a resurrection. They are a public statement, one that tells us and the rest of the world that we are sinners and we are ready to change a few things in our lives in the next few weeks. We remind ourselves that we were once dust and one day, we will return to that state, in our own inevitable deaths. This is heavy stuff, don't you think? So, the Ashes To Go-lemonade-stand was utterly ridiculous, at least to this sinner. All I could think of, for hours later, were little snarky thoughts, certainly nothing pious. Me, I thought that drive-in flu shots were bottom of the barrel (not safe) so, the thought of grabbing a bunch of broccoli with a quick, thoughtless anointing of ashes really hit the bottom hard. What's next? Baptisms at Dunkin Donuts? Just drive by and pass the baby. You might even be able to use an app and get a discount. Maybe they'll throw in a box of Munchkins for your little donut's special day! Nothing would surprise me.