Today is the start of Lent. I am participating at 2 services today that will feature the Imposition of Ashes. Imposition. It's an interesting choice of word. Why not distribution or anointing?
Imposition - the laying on of something as a burden or obligation. An unusual or extraordinarily burdensome requirement or task.
The Ashes used in the service are made from the Palm Leaves that were used for Palm Sunday Celebrations in 2008. It is a reminder that we can shout 'Crucify' as quickly as we can shout 'Hosanna'. They are a symbol of Penitence and Reflection, they are a visual aid to help us Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19
Saying 'no' - the act of giving something up is another practice that happens during Lent. The purpose is not to get legalistic or bound up in what you are giving up, but to allow that act of self-denial to lead you into greater awareness of yourself and God. As we give up something important to us we become aware of our own desires and impulses. So many of us say 'No' to ourselves so infrequently that the Lenten Fasting Practice can lead us to a deeper understanding of what we need to say 'Yes' too.
"Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: 'For my sake was the world created,' and in his left: 'I am earth and ashes.'"--Rabbi Bunum of Pzhysha
In a society where people are often judged by their appearance, spending the day with a smudged ash cross on your forehead is a reminder that inner beauty is of more value than physical beauty.
In a society where commercials frequently tell us ways to get '...what we deserve', Ash Wednesday is a reminder that the world is bigger than we are and will go on after we have gone.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
One thing I have suggested in previous years is Journalling for Lent. There is a list of 40 questions that I have put together here