What is Ash Wednesday?

What is Ash Wednesday?

by Claire Berger

Observing Lent can be an activity filed under, ancient practices. It began with early Christians as the season before Easter to prepare new believers for baptism, and developed into a historic and church-wide practice. Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, where ashes get smeared on your head and you are reminded, “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” 

What a sales pitch. 

But putting ashes on our head isn’t that different from the types of things we talk about all the time. Ash Wednesday is a practice about memory, about the senses, about the body, about the spirit. Material things and physical practices affect us at a deeper level, and we know it. Go to a bookstore and browse the cooking section. You can read the connection between the senses and the authors’ stories: The beef bolognese is a favorite because cooking it reminds her of a first date. This steak recipe reminds him of the happier times at the dinner table. The blueberry cheesecake was his late-wife’s favorite . . . Cooking and eating, touching and tasting, seeing and smelling, evoke memories. And those memories affect our souls. 

Just sit and read a while in that cooking section. It will be good for you.

Smells and sounds that are outside our everyday experience can also be good for us. In our multicultural city, we can drive down the street and smell the memories or our neighbors—burgers, pad Thai, tamales, pizza, kebabs. And maybe those smells make us feel a little less alone; a little less like the world is only about me. You know what heightens these senses? Being hungry. 

Ash Wednesday is often seen as a day of fasting, and by grace it can reorient our body and our soul. Observing an ancient practice–being reminded we are but dust and to dust we will return–can make us feel a little less alone. It can cause us to hunger again for the God who promises to raise the dust from the dead.

Since August, City Church has explored the theme, “Knowing and Being Known,” and during Lent we will focus on tools God has given for finite people to know an infinite God. Join us on March 6 at 7 p.m. to talk about fasting at Rice Memorial Chapel, located at Rice University: Laboratory Road, Houston, TX 77005.