If happiness equals slimming-down the ego, the Imposition of Ashes on the first day of Lent is a powerful and public ritual of spiritual self-immolation
BY ANONYMOUS — I did confession (Ash Wednesday) and received the imposition of ashes. I’ve never felt so stripped naked in public as when I kneeled below the altar, and the priest made the sign of the cross on my forehead with ashes and said: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (or ‘stardust’, as I like to say…)
It was a shock to have the fact of my mortality announced so officially and openly. Truly humbling to realize this me is a fleeting illusion… It feels overwhelming when everyone else in the church is acknowledging their mortality, too, one by one.
We get by day-to-day in denial of this fact. It’s not usually discussed in polite company, if ever; I can’t even remember the last time I talked to anyone about it.
After receiving the ashes, I choked up — I was flooded with swells of grief. Back in the pew, I felt empty. I saw a future when all of the pretty people kneeling along the rail in front of me had disappeared from this life. Moments passed. Then it was like a switch was flipped. Into the emptiness rolled surges of intense delight. Another shift. And for a few seconds I was living in the body-electric. Then I felt a me-ness that wasn’t made of thoughts, a calmness. Bliss.
During the confession, a.k.a. the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I told the priest, who also happened to be a licensed Jungian psychologist, that I had lied to a loved one, and told him about some bad habits of body and mind. I later wrote down his response:
What I hear is a lot of circuitous thinking. I hear a habit of blaming yourself. To keep voicing negative thoughts about what you have done, or failed to do is not only sinning against yourself, it’s sinning against God. It’s a denial of the divinity in you. It’s almost blasphemous.
In my books, what you’ve told me — while wrong — aren’t really big sins. As far as the church is concerned when I give my absolution, the sins you’ve told me — they don’t exist anymore. Phht — they’re gone.
What I want you to do as your penance during Lent is whenever you have a thought about a shortcoming or bashing yourself, say, ‘Father, I have sinned and I know you have already forgiven me.’ Your sins have been taken away.
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- Eliot Spitzer’s press conference confession and penitence
- Life is a Terminal Illness