Ash Wednesday is two days away as I write. It is the beginning of the Christian liturgical season of Lent. Lent includes the forty days, not counting Sundays, before Easter and is a time for repentance, almsgiving and prayer, all practices with the intent of coming closer to God.
And it all begins with Ash Wednesday. Some consider it to be the most honest day on the Christian calendar. An explanation I overheard one day explained it as well as anyone could.
It took place during Trinity’s Homework Help program. Neighborhood kids come with their homework, get paired with a tutor, and work on the homework for the day. A lot of homework does get done, but as this story tells, a lot more than homework happens.
This was on a Wednesday afternoon that happened to be Ash Wednesday. Our space was quite full and some of the students and tutors were working on the floor in the hallway outside my office. I admit I often eavesdrop on conversations in the hallway. This is one that is worth reflecting on.
In 2016 Trinity and Augsburg shared one intern. The Intern would split their time between the two locations. In two such busy sites time management was definitely one of the big challenges. This particular year, Jacie was our Intern. It was her conversation with the students in the hallway that I overheard.
Jacie had attended Chapel at Augsburg earlier that morning and had received a cross of ashes on her forehead. By the time she came to Trinity in the mid-afternoon the ashes were forgotten. They were still there, though, on her forehead and the students were quick to notice.
Student: Jacie, what’s that plus sign on your forehead?
From there the conversation went on. Jacie did a great job answering their questions. She explained that the day was Ash Wednesday. That it is the beginning of Lent, a season very similar to their season of Ramadan. That fasting and charity and prayer were common practices during Lent, just in Ramadan. But that was not what the students wanted to know.
“Is it a tattoo?” “Is it permanent?” “Where are the ashes from?” “Did it hurt?”
After thoughtful answers Jacie added that the ashes remind us that we are sinful and that we will all die. One student responded, “Well, duh!” After a bit more processing one girl asked, “Can you get those on Amazon?”
I never heard the answer to that one, but I’m quite sure you can. Judy (who had overheard this conversation with me) and I were privileged that day to hear that conversation. More than homework gets done, indeed.
But, really, how do you explain any of that? To someone of the same faith or kids whose faith is in many ways quite different?
It’s not the theology of it all that matters. It’s not the accuracy of the explanations or the goal of “winning one over to our side” that is important. It is about a safe place where such honest questions can be asked that matters, where an Intern can take the time to be truly present, where understanding grows just a little bit once again.
This holy work that we find ourselves in the midst of is about coming together in hallways, and mosques and parking lots, over Somali tea and coffee and pancakes simply to be together and get to know each other better.
And it’s a great way to start Lent.
Original journal entry date: 3/4/19
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.