So today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of yet another Christian festival; the preparation for Easter Sunday where you daub ashes on your forehead and deprive yourself of something nice for forty days and forty nights.
I have celebrated (I use this term loosely) Ash Wednesday and Lent for years. At least when I was in school as there was no escape. Similar to having studied (again a loose reference) Irish for the duration of my education yet only possessing a handful of words and zero conversational Irish, I had to google the actual meaning of Lent and also why [on earth] ashes are smeared on foreheads.
And this is what I unearthed. In biblical times ashes were associated with grief and mourning. In Old Testament times ashes were used for repentance. Folk would sit in them, roll around in them and – gak - even put them in their food.
God save us!
I mean, come on! Who comes up with this stuff? Really? The mind, and I’ve got a small one, boggles. Mine is well and truly boggled. My flabber has never been so gasted.
I was chatting to someone the other day and she said her first holy communicant daughter has “gone all holy” on her. She’s talking about giving up sweets for Lent. She reckons she won’t last a week.
Some people think this is great discipline for their kids.
I think it is mean. Pure and simple.
What’s the point? Isn’t life penance enough sometimes? Why would you deprive yourself of something nice and the end of a long day? Or decide that a minor should, just because you think it’s fitting?
So here’s something. An idea. I may have mentioned this last year too.
On this Ash Wednesday, instead of denying yourself your caffeine fix, your morning marmalade, your scant glass of wine in the evening or your beloved chocolate for the next four weeks or whatever it is, why not take up something instead.
Buy a suspended coffee in your local participating café. Hold a door open for someone. Better still, let someone get the lights before they change. Maybe decide not to complain or give out. Don’t have something nice to say? Zip it instead.
Go for a walk every day. Make sure you drink at least 6 glasses of water daily. Decide to take the stairs instead of the lift. Do a school run for someone. Ooooooohhh, do a school run for someone!
Offer to babysit. Not at night time. Offer to mind the kids whilst their parents enjoy a decadent lunch in the hotel down the road. Tell them not to hurry back. Or even tell them to go for a breakfast coffee if the thought of minding kids for two hours during daylight makes you reach for your inhaler.
Get the picture?
And give yourself bonus points if doing something nice for someone means you have been inconvenienced.
You can always go home afterwards and cheer yourself up with coffee/chocolate/wine or all three!
See? Shur, why would you be going giving up treats for forty days and forty nights? It makes no sense at all.