This evening, a memento mori will be etched on my forehead as words very much like this are spoken. The ashes used for Ash Wednesday come from burned palm branches, which had been waved during the previous year’s Palm Sunday service. In at least one church, the palms were burned in the furnace of a local funeral parlor; as it is difficult to sweep all the ashes out of such a furnace, there was no way to be sure the ashes used did not include a bit of someone’s Uncle Joe. At least, that’s what one minister told me, and I have little cause to doubt it. It does seem appropriate though, doesn’t it?
In a culture obsessed with youth, it is good to remind ourselves of our mortality. America seems like a young adult at present – which is to say, the policies seem to be predicated on the assumption that our country will exist with its current strength and resources forever. World history suggests this is a self-deluded view. It’s a view that denies the reality that cultures and societies have their own sort of mortality. So, again, it’s good to have the ash drawn on our forehead, to remind ourselves that death rules the collective as well as the individual.
The word “Lent” is from Middle English, meaning “Spring.” And what we do for the coming forty days might be seen as a sort of psychic spring house cleaning. It’s very common to think of Lent as a time one gives up things, e.g., colas, candy, and so on.
Sunday evening, Pam and I were discussing an alternate way of observing Lent: taking on disciplines. For example, Pam plans to attend more church functions during the week. She also plans to exercise more, a discipline aided by the fact that she will be teaching racquetball four days a week.
As for myself, I am “giving up” watching TV for Lent. This is something of a tradition for me. I think this has been my stated discipline for the past two to three years. I have learned, much to my chagrin, that TV addiction is as hard to “kick” as cigarettes – maybe harder. So, last year, I limited myself to one hour an evening, with the stipulation that the hour in question be “quality” programming (i.e., the sort of thing you’d see on PBS). This year, on the theory that nature abhors a vacuum (at least the addictive personality does), I am taking on some disciplines in addition to giving up television.
I plan to read during the time I would normally watch TV, for one thing. I have about four or five books I hope to read during Lent (they’re about 500 pages each, at most). I also plan to write more during Lent.
This web-log may be the beneficiary of that last discipline.
Do you have plans for your psychic house-cleaning?