Ash Wednesday: The Day We Doubt Our Immortality Projects
Today is Ash Wednesday. And whether or not you consider yourself apart of the Christian church, there’s value to be learned from “Ash Wednesday.”
Ash Wednesday isn’t suppose to be comfortable. It’s a day when the Christian church takes repentance public. A day when something usually reserve for the private sphere gets pushed into the public sphere. It’s a day when repentance is there for all to see, with the sign of the cross inscribed in ash on one’s forehead.
It’s a public acknowledgement that we are mortal. That we — and all we stand for — are dust.
“Ash Wednesday” is a time of relinquishment … relinquishment of our project of immortality.
We are all — religious or not — seeking immortality in one way or another.
There are five main ways (per Robert Lifton) we pursue symbolic immortality:
Through our family heritage. Our children, grandchildren, etc.
Through our work. Our businesses, our job, our artwork, our discoveries, etc.
Through the well-being of nature. “So that our children can live better than we do”.
Through getting in touch with a higher power.
Through our involvement with a community larger than ourselves. Political party, religion, community service, the armed forces, etc.
Ash Wednesday is a day when we reflect on our immortality projects and acknowledge the fact that all our works will turn to dust. It’s a day when we stop denying death.
It’s good for us to remember that the works of our hands will not last forever. That our kingdoms will fall. That America will one day be no more. That our bodies will die. That our jobs, our business, our children, our name, our political ideals, and even our religion will one day find themselves in the annuls of history. And that history too will one day forget.
Ash Wednesday isn’t suppose to be comfortable. No, there’s nothing comfortable about this day. Today is a day that we repent of our immortality projects. Today is a day we remember that “from dust you were made and to dust you shall return.”
The value of Ash Wednesday is this: that in forgetting our immortality projects, we might strive for life now. That we forget ourselves and remember that today is all we have. And that love may be the only thing that makes today valuable.