I'm about to go to an Ash Wednesday service. I'll be brining a wet wipe with me. Last year, I wore the ashes on my forehead all day. At the time, I convinced myself that this was nothing more than an outward sign of my commitment to observe Lent. The farther I got away from the day, however, the more I realized that I was wearing them as a kind of sign of holiness.
I realize that for many people, this is not the case. But for me, wearing the ashes was nothing more than a kind of self righteousness. Self righteousness on what is arguably the worst day to be self righteous.
So today, as an act of faithfulness, I'm brining a wet wipe with me and will remove the ashes from my forehead when I get into my car.
I'm trying to make Lent real for me this year in a way it has never been before. This year I am giving up all flesh except for on Feast Days, caffeine on all days, and after a lot of prayer, counseling, and careful study, following a call the Lord placed on my heart to not receive the Eucharist again until Easter.
But I'm also learning that Lent is much more than giving up, but about taking on. I am also going to practice lectio divina and a new kind of reading of the Psalms as a response to God. I am trying to center myself more on His Presence in the everyday and the miracle of His very Being.
And I am taking on a wet wipe, learning that my inward holiness is much more important than my outward. The outward will come as the inward is grown.
Maybe next year I will be in the spiritual space to wear the ashes without the temptation to make it into an issue of pride. Maybe. But for this year, I'm focusing on making the ashen cross first on my heart. My forehead can fend for itself.