Maybe that's why I like it so much. I might dread Lent as it approaches, but when the first day of penance arrives it never fails to be meaningful and not as difficult as I had imagined.
A little black cross streaked on foreheads is such a wonderful symbol. It's as ephemeral as the human life it symbolizes, lasting only a few hours. Just a few days into Lent you've forgotten you wore it. I think this keeps the image from becoming cliche and meaningless. After all, you don't see ash smudges printed on greeting cards or draped across store displays or stamped on seasonal candies. These simple dark marks remain safe from obnoxious popular culture.
Instead, ashes appear briefly to remind us of our weakness and frailty. Once a year we put our dare to plaster across our faces the fact that we need God's redemption.
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
That was evident in my office today as two co-workers anticipated surgeries. These women are both vivacious, outgoing, and hardworking, but their cardiac system and spine aren't invincible. No matter how much we want to do everything, we cannot. We're only fragile creatures molded from dust.
As I walked home thinking these things, the breeze was unseasonably warm. Contemplating mortality, I ironically caught a whiff of damp soil and budding plants. My stomach grumbled from fasting and my cute shoes made my feet hurt, but I also reveled in the sunshine and exercise. Paradoxes like this are why I love Lent and Easter. Pain and beauty, fear and life, sin and love blend for one magnificent experience. These 40+ days help us understand the humanity we were born into.