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Remembering Ash Wednesday // Dust No. 23

Lauralee Farrer

The communal benefits of this historic practice

Chief Creative, Fuller Theological Seminary / President of Burning Heart Productions
April 17, 2014

In this second Maundy Thursday installment of Dust, Lauralee Farrer calls us back into the remembrance of Ash Wednesday. Just as the Jews remember Passover every year, and Christians understand Passover anew in the light of the Last Supper, here Lauralee leads us in hearkening back to the beginnings of the season. We came from dust, and to dust we shall return, we heard almost 40 days ago. It’s in the finality of Holy Week that we find the fulfillment of our dusty state, redeemed through Christ.

Lauralee Farrer- There are many transformational benefits to the observance of Lent: a communal experience that stretches across the world as well as the centuries; a very necessary season of sacred lamenting without which the arc of the year’s liturgical seasons would lose its meaning (like taking the low points out of a screenplay); the effects of fasting to break routine, give us focus, activate desire, and remind us of God’s fecundity. Really, there are so many benefits to it that I long for the lenten season by the time it approaches: I’m ready to “cleanse.” But here’s my favorite story:

Some years ago I had received the imposition of ashes at a chapel service at Fuller Seminary. The gentleman who rubbed the ashes into a cross on my forehead was especially vigorous (I trust not in response to a minor but uncomfortable altercation we had the previous week). My forehead was obliterated by black ash. There was ash sprinkled all over my cheeks and onto my clothes. I am unfamiliar with the protocol of ash re-imposition, but I felt wrong editing it, so I left it alone. Then, later in the day, a friend and I went to a local Mexican restaurant for lunch. We were the first to arrive and the waiters and busboys were all lined up in rows at the front of the restaurant in such a way that we had to walk through them as if it were a parade. One by one they looked at my forehead, at each other, and then back at me—beaming. All of their own foreheads were clean. The waiter and runner and busboy that came to our table made a very distinct point of looking at my forehead and wordlessly signalling their approval. Then, moments later, each returned from the kitchen with the imposition of ashes on their own foreheads, and a thumbs up to me. By the time we left, most of the kitchen and wait staff were smudged, and several discreetly waved goodbye.

P.S. I keep my journals according to the liturgical season, so my lent journal is a record of what has transpired and what I’ve been thinking over the years during lent. That is very informative. I often read (or watch), among other things, the book of Job, The Tree of Life, Michael Card’s A Sacred Sorrow: The Lost Language of Lament,The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Beldon Lane, Mother Teresa’s journals, Van Gogh’s letters, and anything by poet Pattiann Rogers.

P.P.S. Here, actually, is a photo someone took as I received the imposition of ashes this year at Fuller from my friends Mignon Jacobs and Mark Labberton. (They look as if they are rather concerned about me, don’t you think? Perhaps I should inquire.)