Ash Wednesday: A Reflection

Just a few short years ago, this was a day of significance for me. Now, it almost sneaks up on me.

At age 12, I committed to reading the Bible on this day, foolishly thinking I could read an entire book of the Old Testament every day of Lent. It took 6 months, not 40 days, to complete that Lenten penance.

For as long as I can remember until about 2010, I have avoided eating meat on this day, as on every Friday.

I spent most of my life fasting on this day, avoiding snacks and eating smaller meals.

I went to Mass to be marked and reminded that I am dust and will return to dust.

I picked something to give up or committed to extra prayers or spiritual reading. Some years, I tried to do both.

I focused on the sins I had committed throughout the previous year and repented for them in preparation for confession.

In short, I began a 40 day journey of torturing myself for being born human and therefore with sin. Not that I never did that the rest of the year, but it was a special focus during the season of Lent.

Today, I look back on the me that was and wish I could have broken out of that monstrous cycle much younger. This day no longer holds a significance for me, except perhaps a negative one, as I purposefully disregard the foolish rituals of my former beliefs to cope with how much energy I wasted practicing them.

I packed a corned beef sandwich for lunch today, and am quite glad it didn’t have to be peanut butter (although both are good, of course).

I won’t be spending time in an uncomfortable pew on my knees, or repenting for having emotions.

I refuse to do penance to a deity I cannot believe in for acts I can no longer see as wrong. If I have hurt someone, done something to cause suffering, I want to repent to the wounded party, not a being who is clearly more willing to throw me into eternal fire than to provide even the smallest bit of evidence for his existence.

P.S. I am not trying to imply that eating meat is necessarily good, but I think I have. If you avoid meat so as not to cause animal suffering, more power to you. I think that is the moral ideal, although I’m not a vegetarian. What I am against is avoiding meat specifically to make yourself suffer or to share in some fake mystical union.


4 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday: A Reflection

  1. I have to be honest. I didn’t really understand the concept of Ash Wednesday, in part, because I didn’t understand the concept of giving something up for a short while and then seeking penance for…things?

    I have an outsiders view, looking in, though.

    1. I think that’s a natural progression for those who leave behind the religion of their youth, though I’m not sure. To me, it makes some sense that the more distance you have from believing the reason(s) for a practice, the weirder that practice seems. I’ve always thought Mormon’s magic underwear was weird, but I’ve never believed in any reason for that practice. Would I have found it normal if I’d been brought up Mormon? I think so.

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