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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

... and to dust you shall return

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for Western Christians.

Because I am a practicing Christian I am often asked questions like "Do you really think that God cares about what you eat?" and "Isn't fasting actually just ungrateful since so much food goes to waste every day?"

I love to answer these questions and can do so ad nauseum because I have put a lot of thought into my beliefs over the past five to seven years or so. Additionally, I think questions like this are important because they help me to look at my beliefs from new perspectives. Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind.

I will be doing a lot of writing about Lent (I hope), so please feel free to ask me questions, even the most inflammatory ones. I'm not easily offended.

Today was the first time in maybe 16 years that I did not attend a Catholic service for Ash Wednesday. Instead, I attended an Episcopal service meant for homeless men and women and their healthcare providers. It was very similar to what I'm used to except of course, for the Eucharist* which I was prepared for, having attended some Protestant masses in the past.

(Is this the beginning of a metanoia? Only time will tell.)

I enjoyed this particular service because there was a real community involved. It was so much better than going to a big half empty church on a cold Wednesday night. Patients and nurses alike sat in a circle and the service was informal. Three men volunteered and did the readings. One of them stumbled over the words of Matthew and looked up apologetically to say he was nervous. Everyone nodded in understanding and the reading continued. A woman dabbed her black rimmed eyes.

The reverend spoke about second chances and forgiveness, and I felt a real chill run through me. To my left was a man I know who is dying and who is scared. He kept his eyes downward until it was time for the peace offering. We shook hands and hugged. I accepted the Eucharist from a woman patient who I've seen around but do not know. It was a really wonderful reminder that we are all here to serve one another, this breaking down of staff versus patients for the hour long service.

I felt a bit odd not going to a Catholic Mass to begin the season. But in some ways, this might be the best start a Lent has ever had.

* Protestants and Catholics differ on the opinion of whether or not the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus during the Mass. Protestants, because they believe the bread and wine only represent Jesus may use various substances to fill in. Catholics have stricter requirements about what substance may be consecrated. After a brief speech about the unity of Christians in the breaking of the bread, we all ate a doughy cookie and drank grape juice.

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