It is a decidedly odd thing, the imposition of ashes. We kneel before a priest and let her smear ash on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. As a mother, accustomed to licking a finger and vigorously wiping errant smudges off faces - my child's and my own - I have to resist the urge to wipe away the ash.
It is so physical. So unabashedly dramatic, to smear ash on my head as a reminder of my mortality. But in the Episcopal church we hold fast to the bodily rituals of Christianity. We wash feet. We don ashes. We kneel. We drink from a common cup that is held to our mouths as though we were children. Our worship is not a passionate outpouring but a calm embrace of an outrageous and absurd theology. Jesus is the wisdom teacher who not only died for his words, but refused to stay dead. We believe that a man died and then came back to life, and that man was not just a man, but also God Himself. We believe that the Creator of the universe would rather experience total suffering and obliteration than justice and revenge. We believe that love, surrender, and self-extinction are more powerful than fear, anger, might, or justice. And we embrace these wild and ridiculous truths with a pleasant smile on our faces as we obediently and calmly worship God.
When I shower, this ash will be removed. But Lent is the time for me to keep my mortality and weakness ever present, even when the ash is gone.