Hearts and Ashes
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. The contrast is stark!
The symbols for Valentine’s Day include hearts and Cupid. It is a day to give candy and send flowers. On the first day of Lent, we receive a smudge of ashes on our forehead and join our sisters and brothers in acknowledging the ways of sin that draw us from God.
One day invites romance. The other invites serious self-examination.
Pondering the contrast has led me to a couple of reflections.
First, Christians live in two worlds at once. Grounded in the mystery of Christ, our lives are ordered by the cycles and rhythms of the liturgical year. We also enjoy and take part in holidays special in our culture. We are not separatists. God is present and alive in every aspect of our lives. The challenge lies in how we navigate faith in an increasingly complex and multi-textured world.
Second, it is sort of fun to imagine how Gospel themes intersect with various celebrations. Besides exchanging valentines, heart language also shows up on Ash Wednesday when we pray: “create in me a clean heart, O God.” How are the images and themes different? Where might they be the same? Early Christians creatively infused Gospel meaning into customs that already existed. (Christmas, for example, grew from the observance of Winter Solstice.)
These challenges lead to a host of questions: How do we embrace church and culture at the same time? How does the church engage culture while maintaining the distinctiveness of the Gospel? How do I balance commitment to Sunday worship with other activities and commitments? Do I need to sort out my priorities?
Questions like these are good to think about and pray, especially in a time like Lent when we ask God to renew our hearts and prepare with joy for the Easter feast.