Resurrection House Blog: What’s That On Your Forehead?
What’s That On Your Forehead?
There I sat jealous of the other kids, it seemed like all of them had it, but me. No matter where I looked, I could find a forehead with that big black mark. Growing up, this happened every Ash Wednesday, and I wanted to get ashes just like all the other kids. In elementary school those ashes meant that those kids got to leave school during the day (which I never got to do), they got to go to church and get ashes on their foreheads, come back to school and walk around with what I considered a badge of honor.
Don’t worry though, I still got ashes on Ash Wednesday. But since both of my parents were teachers, we always went to the service at night, which meant I never got to show off my big black cross. At the time, not only were those ashes super cool, but they are an outward sign that I was a Christian, and that was the really important part, right? Jesus wants us to spread his words and teachings, and what better way to do that than on Ash Wednesday, when everyone can see me sporting a big black cross on my forehead. I can’t be more obvious than that.
Wait a minute I am seeing a contradiction here. In the gospel reading that is exactly what Jesus warns us not to do. He says it blatantly, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Alright, but does that really refer to what I wanted in elementary school. Let’s look at the piece of scripture in the context of the time. This piece of scripture is a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He is speaking to a group of primarily Jewish people about their own individual piety, or how they should each practice their devoutness to God.
The commentaries I read on this passage were quick to point out that Jesus was not being critical of the Jewish ideas of piety. What he was emphasizing was the intention behind performing those acts of piety. When Jesus states, “So when you give alms, do not sound the trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.” Jesus wants his followers to understand what their intention should be in performing those acts of piety. If someone gives alms for the sake of being praised, that’s not the reason for practicing that piece of piety. Giving alms is supposed to be a way of becoming closer to God, not for being praised and rewarded by our peers.
Why did I want to get those ashes again? What was I centering my idea of getting ashes around?
During the book study on The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, Lewis portrays this same idea in a young painter. While in Heaven, the painter is having a conversation with a Spirit about his pieces of art. The Spirit tries to help the painter remember the reason he started painting. Initially it was to share the pieces of heaven he witnessed around him. And the painter was successful artist because his paintings enabled others to see those glimpses of heaven. But now in Heaven, the painter doesn’t understand that idea. He believes that it was the painting was what people were impressed with and appreciated. Frustrated, the Spirit tries to make the painter understand what his paintings really meant to people, and says, “Light itself was your first love; you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”
You loved paint only as a means of telling about light.
Lewis perfectly illustrates how and what we should be centering our lives on, the light. Which I took to mean the light of Christ. And this is exactly where I fall or get lost sometimes. The point of getting ashes on my forehead was not for me to boast about the classroom and to show off how pious I was or wasn’t. The point of practicing piety is to grow closer to God, to feel the love God has for us, which enables us to share that love with others.
Lent is not simply a time for giving up candy or Facebook for the sake of practicing obedience. It is an opportunity to strip away those distractions and practice forms of piety that bring us into a closer relationship with God. It is a time for us to reflect on how we share how much God loves us. And this is overwhelming sometimes, at least for me to truly comprehend. God loves us so much that he gave us his only son. Jesus was on Earth to show us how to share God’s love with others. And because of him, we can share that love through whatever means we feel conveys the light and the love God, just like the painter. Perhaps in elementary school, my intention for wearing a black cross on my forehead wasn’t the best way for me to share God’s love with others. Although the silver lining to that story is that God doesn’t condemn me for wanting to do that.
There is a particular line during the service today that reveals this good news, it says, “He pardons and absolves all those who truly repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel”. Even though I got wrapped up in sporting a black cross on my forehead, God knows where our hearts are and if we get lost, will guide them back into the light.
– Alyse Viggiano