22 February 2007

Archive: Hey, there's something on your forehead.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before or not, but I am not religious. No, really, it's true. I don't subscribe to any religious creeds, I don't believe in any gods, goddesses or other supernatural hoodoo.

I was, however, raised in the Christian Reformed Church, sent through Christian schooling from preschool to high school and now I attend a Catholic college. Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was born and raised, is to the Christian Reformed Church what Vatican City is to the Catholic Church . . . except without the guards in silly pumpkin pants.

I am no stranger to the doings of religious folk. I actually find that I know the bible a great deal better than many people who believe that it's the word of their god. Now, my knowledge of other world religions is considerably less than it is for Christianity . . . point of fact, I'm pretty clueless when it comes to eastern religions and would never claim to have anything but the coarsest of understandings of Islam (I do, however, know that Mormonism is not a world religion but a cult and one in which its members wear magical underwear, but that's an issue for another blog) BUT, I do feel that I have a pretty good understanding of Christian rites and rituals.

That being said, can anyone explain to me what the flying fuck is up with Ash Wednesday?!
In my Prot upbringing Lent wasn't so big of a deal. Mostly it meant all the old ladies at church would wear a lot more purple for a month or so and my dad's bakery would make a killing on Fat Tuesday. I know some Prots do the ash thing, but it wasn't a big part of my experience.

The Catholics, it seems, go ga-ga over this bizarre ritual. Don't get me wrong, as far as bizarre rituals go I think consuming the literal flesh and blood of a man (who never actually existed) as a way of showing your holiness beats the pants off of smudging one's forehead once a year, but Ash Wednesday is still weird.

What's it all about? And how long are you supposed to keep that gunk on your face? All day yesterday I was surrounded by mature adults walking around looking like they had head-butted Pigpen. It was hard to quell my maternal urges to lick my thumb and swab their heads with it so they could look like respectable young men and women.

So can anyone explain the ashing to me? Is it just the priests' way of evening the score? 'I gotta wear this asinine robe all year, now's your turn to look like a douche!' What's the significance? And also, I'm intensely interested in the political and social aspect. Do the ash faces look down on the cleanly? (Yes, I know, you NEVER judge because that's god's job but realistically, is there social ramifications for those who don't proudly bear the sign of the cross upon their forehead?) Is it a Star-Bellied Sneech kind of thing? And maybe most importantly: Where does the ash come from? Does it transubstantiate into the remains of Joan of Arc or something?

Fill me in here, would you?