Lent snuck-up on me.
To be fair, this isn't even my lent anymore. In Ukraine we use a different calendar, and our religious holidays often line up in odd ways. I don't know what day Ash Wednesday will be here - I'm sure it will sneak up on me as well.
I was sitting with a close friend, and I asked him if we celebrate Ash Wednesday in Ukraine. I'm almost certain that we do, I just can't remember specifically going to a worship service and having a cross of ashes placed on my forehead. I can't remember riding a tram filled with older adults with smudged foreheads. I feel like I would remember these things.
My friend isn't religious, and his family hasn't been religious for generations. Almost all of my friends are deeply religious people whose families are steeped in generations of faithful service to the church. His confused stare and cocked head let me know that he wasn't following my line of thought. I explained that I was asking about the holy day when people go to church and the priest puts a cross on their forehead. I reached out my hand, and made the sign of the cross on his forehead.
Our conversation had moved from my inability to remember dates to a conversation about faith. I didn't have a good answer for why we do it. I confessed that it is the Christian holiday that I don't fully grasp. I mean, I understand the reasons we give - but I don't understand why we do it. Why we really do it. My friend nodded his head in appreciable agreement. My guess is that he feels that way about most of the religious things I do. He understand why I bow my head for grace at home and why I work on a sermon for hours every week - but he sometimes makes it clear that he doesn't understand why I really do these things.
And maybe this year, in celebration* of Ash Wednesday I'll only mark the sign of the cross on this one forehead. I'm not a pastor** and I won't be serving in a worship service of this sort. But, one forehead is enough.
As for me, this holy day has always been about an outward sign of an inwardly penitent heart. The ashes are a sign that we are forgiven. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And in the simple conversation that we had, that was the story that I shared. I'm forgiven. Nothing more. Nothing less.
* commemoration? supplication? transubstantiation? - I'm really at a loss for words about this holy day.
**I am a pastor, but I'm not. I'm a licensed local pastor not currently under appointment in the Western PA conference and I'm under appointment but not a licensed local pastor in the Ukraine Moldova annual conference. I genuinely don't know if I am clergy or lay at this point. I consider myself a lay person, and I lead the student center as a lay person who is considering ministry. This seems the closest to the truth.