What Makes Ash Wednesday So Powerful

What Makes Ash Wednesday So Powerful

By Mary Rose Somarriba

What Makes Ash Wednesday So Powerful

Have you ever noticed how packed churches get on Ash Wednesday?

If you think about it, what often gets churches packed on Christmas and Easter—besides often being obligatory for practicing Christians to attend—is that many families are bringing along family members who may or may not be practicing Christians to attend with them.
You’d almost think it’s Christmas or Easter how packed churches get on this mid-week day that’s traditional yet optional for all range of Western Christians to attend—from Methodist to Lutheran to Presbyterian to Anglican to Catholic to Western Orthodox churches. But, on Ash Wednesday, nearly each man or woman has arrived on their own—often by themselves!

This year, the webmaster of my church was pleasantly surprised when she looked at the web analytics: the site had more users on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year. Which actually seems to support the sense of non-churchgoers in attendance: it’s those who aren’t getting the bulletins and announcements each Sunday who need to look up the service times online.

I observed this a couple years ago when attending a service in Washington, DC. During the standing-room-only service, I saw faces I never saw on Sunday that day. My husband even recognized an old teaching colleague who was not a church-going Christian at the time; nevertheless she felt compelled that day to attend. “I just felt a pull today,” she said, after receiving the burnt ashes of last year’s palms on her forehead.

So what is it about Ash Wednesday that makes people remember it and show up? It certainly isn’t just to get a black smudge on their foreheads.

I think there’s something about Ash Wednesday that reminds us of something essentially human. If there’s something we can all relate to as human beings, it’s that we’re sinners. There’s something universal in this sense that we’ve strayed and we know it. There’s something beautiful about this honesty and willingness to show up and say so.

For Christians, Ash Wednesday is the start of the 40 days of Lent, preparing for Christ’s death and resurrection, during which Christians are called to pray, fast, and give alms to the poor. Many also give up something like sweets, or add a spiritual practice to their daily routine, as an effort to focus more on letting God work in our lives.

But, giving up chocolate or not, the pivotal part of Ash Wednesday is what perhaps most resonates with those making the greatest turnout. It’s the call to repent, to change our lives.

Of course, that’s what all Christians attending on Sundays are aiming to do as well—returning to keep refocusing our eyes on the goal, lift each other up, be nourished, and try again for another week. Because it’s true these 40 days, each Sunday, and Ash Wednesday that we’re all sinners. We all desperately need what we don’t deserve. It’s mercy, and it’s available for the taking, direct from the source of all Love, in limitless supply, every week and every day. All we need is to come and ask.

I Can Start Over Again

I Can Start Over Again

Daniel West

We’ve all been there. You’re hanging out with a group of people on December 31. Perhaps you’re talking to someone, you hit a lull in the conversation, and they ask “So, what are your New Year’s resolutions?” You pause, perhaps because you haven’t thought about that yet, and possibly because you have thought about it, but telling another person what your thoughts are forces you to commit. Do you even remember what your resolutions were last December 31?

If not, why not?

This hinges on two concepts with which people who believe in deity are familiar: hope and faith. In order to follow through with a resolution–New Year’s or otherwise–we need both. When we only hope for things, we want an outcome to be good, but we are unsure of what it is or what we should do to ensure the outcome occurs. Faith gives us the direction and focus we need to get the results we desire.

I had some Army training at Fort Knox, Kentucky this summer. There were many events that measured my Soldiering skills, one of which was a shooting range. On the range, we had to shoot at 40 silhouettes that would pop up for a few seconds at a time at distances from 50 to 300 meters. To pass the course, we had to hit at least 23. When it was my turn to shoot, my eye protection fogged up, (Kentucky is quite humid) I had trouble getting a proper sight picture, and I did not hit enough targets.

Thankfully, I had a second chance. I could have gotten right back in line, drawn more ammo, and hoped for a better result. I realized that this probably wouldn’t have worked, so I exercised faith. I knew that I was capable of shooting better than I did, and I took the steps to get the result I needed. I took some basic marksmanship advice from one of the sergeants, watched the targets for a while to see exactly how long I had to shoot at each one, and did one other important thing: I prayed.

“Heavenly Father,” I said “I know that you can’t make me a better shot, but could you please keep my glasses from fogging up?” I took what I had learned, as well as the extra strength that I gained from prayer, and went back to the line. My glasses remained clear, and I hit 35 of the 40 targets.

Another key part of having the faith to keep resolutions is to share it! Find someone you can trust, and tell them what you’re doing and why. Whether you’re writing a book, going to the gym, or learning a new skill, you are more likely to follow through if someone else knows. Finally, counsel with whatever god you believe in daily, and gain strength through prayer and meditation.

If you make a resolution for 2018, exercise faith. You have a book full of blank pages upon which to write the next chapters of your life. Have a sure outcome in mind, and make some solid goals and plans. As you trust in God, trust in yourself, and meet those goals one by one, next year you will be able to say that you resolved to do something and you did it.