Some of you know my guilty secret of eternal shame, that I love the show Toddlers & Tiaras.That should clue you that I like a little bling. Sometimes I have trouble balancing my love for the sparkly stuff with my desire to do the right thing, especially during Lent.
What do you mean?
Those not familiar with Christianity can be excused for thinking that Christmas is the most important day on the Christian calendar. Au contraire. Easter is the big kahuna because it commemorates Christ’s resurrection. Just as it wouldn’t be smart to run the Boston Marathon without a little training, Christians get ready for Easter with a prep period called Lent. The kick-off for Lent is Ash Wednesday, and that is this week.
At church on Ash Wednesday they smear the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes. This is a reminder that our earthly bodies are going to turn back to dirt when this life is over. Sometimes you can’t even see the mark. But if the person with the ashes has a big thumb, or is especially zealous, you wind up looking like one of the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins.
Now that we’ve got the mini-catechism out-of-the-way, you’re probably scratching your head and saying “OK, but what does any of this have to do with Toddlers & Tiaras?”
I’ll tell you.
When I was a kid, whenever we would have to do something we didn’t want to do (like baby-sit our snotty-nosed siblings), or when we couldn’t do something we DID want to do (like watch Dark Shadows, which we weren’t allowed to watch because it would corrupt our morals or something), there was bound to be some complaining.
My Mom’s favorite response to any and all such whining? “Offer it up cheerfully. You’re storing up jewels for your heavenly crown.”
I always liked the mental picture of a crown, because I like the bling. But I get the impression that if I’m prancing around in a big, good-deeds tiara here on earth, I won’t get the heavenly crown. It’s a now or later proposition.
Where do outward displays of generosity and piety fit in?
The bible is pretty clear that I’m not supposed to stand in the break room at work and moan, “I’m so weak I can barely stand up because I’m fasting. Did I mention I’m not eating any of those donuts because it’s Lent and I’m fasting? Because I’m holy – at least holier than most of thou-all in this break room.”
This is where we swing back around to the topic of Ash Wednesday. Thanks for sticking with me.
The dilemma I always have, is what to do with the ashes. Do I wear the cross all day to help others remember that this is an important day of reflection and repentance? Or is that boasting?
If I swipe the ashes off as soon as I get out of church am I hiding my light under a bushel basket? If I don’t wipe them off, am I bragging? If I get a reward of warm and fuzzy feelings here on earth, do I (this is the important part) forfeit the jewels in my heavenly crown?
What’s the proper balance here?
Years ago, Ash Wednesday rolled around soon after I had landed my first job in a big corporation. I ducked out at lunch and went to mass. I was talking to a co-worker later that afternoon when he gestured to my face, said, “You’ve got some dirt there.” and reached up to swipe it away. I jerked back like he had boogers on his fingers.
“Oh, yeah. Um, well…it’s Ash Wednesday and all…” I trailed off.
“Oh, yeah! That’s right. I forgot!” We both turned beet red. I don’t know who was more embarrassed. Probably him, because he felt compelled to launch into a big explanation of why he didn’t go to church anymore because (insert excuse here) – blah, blah, blah.
I nodded and smiled, but what I wanted say was, “Hey, I’m nobody’s spiritual guide. I’m just a girl trying to get through this right.”
I guess that is the answer to my question.
All any of us can do is try to get through it right. Life, I mean. I need to keep reminding myself not to focus so much on buying the rhinestone tiara of the here-and-now, and put more effort into adding big diamonds to the crown I’ve got on layaway.