Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Ash Wednesday in the South

Ash Wednesday has just come and gone again this year. It is one of those things that us Anglicans have a mixed commitment to. Some of us do the whole ashes on the forehead thing as shown, some of us let it go by, possibly some of us wonder what the point is.

For those of you who don't know, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which is a time we're supposed to hold back on the material things of life and take some time to build up our spiritual side so we can more appreciate Easter which comes at the end of Lent. Anglicans don't have strict rules around what we do in Lent, so some of us get into fasting etc and some of us don't and no one minds. The ashes-on-the-forehead are supposed to come from the little palm crosses they pass around on Palm Sunday (Sunday before Easter) which we've kept all year and they get burned on Ash Wednesday. I knew this well as a kid, but I never did manage to keep track of my palm cross for a whole year. Somehow by next Ash Wednesday it had gone missing. Still, it is a nice idea if you can do it.

There's a point to it all as well, the ashes are a reminder that we are all going to die (ashes-to-ashes) so this life is all temporary. In pre-Christian times Roman generals while enjoying their triumphal march into Rome after victories in far off lands would have someone next to them whispering from time to time 'remember one day you will die'. It was to keep them from getting too up themselves. There may be a connection with the ashes, though maybe not.

In the old days in the North the subsistence farmers were nearing the end of winter and their stores were getting low. It was a really good time to cut back on food, but they knew spring was not far off and something to look forward to. Weaving this notion into the Christian story made good sense even though, it should be noted, the Christian story doesn't quite fit it. Jesus fasted for 40 days which is supposed to be the Lent period, but he did it before he began his ministry, not three years later just before he was crucified. But they worked with what they had and made an annual cycle out of it all. It was probably helpful to have spiritual leaders prompting people to eke out their stores for the last of the lean season. Mardi Gras, or Carnivale, which is just before Ash Wednesday may be connected with the idea that there would not be enough food for any excess livestock in the next couple of months so best to eat them now. Carnivale and carnivore are closely related words.

Here in the southern hemisphere the whole Lent thing is awkward. We're in our abundant season. Fruit is falling from our trees uneaten because we can't keep up with it. I feel the need to just go out there and munch down a few more pears and apples and plums and figs and... well it would stop them going to waste. Sure, we preserve stuff, and even give some away, but it is still hard to keep up with. Tightening my belt around now just doesn't seem right.

There are aspects of Lent that do not involve food, but I like to think I do my share of those the rest of the time, prayer and kindness and so on. So Lent does sort of pass me by usually. Possibly there would be value in doing something Lenten in six months time, around September, but in our climate that is when spring is well underway and we're getting the first asparagus. Possibly July, which is really winter, would make more sense.

So I don't really worry about Lent too much, and I enjoy Easter when it comes.
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