Tonight my mom and I went to Ash Wednesday worship at my home church, Valley Community Presbyterian Church, in Portland, OR. The mark of the ash upon the forehead drew many reactions from many within the sanctuary: a one-year old boy, held in his mom's arms, said (appropriately) "Uh-oh" as the ashes were placed upon his head. I always find myself taking a breath and pause to realize the radicalness of the gesture of smudged ashes upon the heads of the youngest of the young. A pew full of young boys kept pointing to their foreheads, laughing quietly and asking each other "Do you see the smudge on my forehead? See it? Cool, huh!" Some teenagers did not want their hair smudged when the ashes were put on their foreheads, so they went for the ashes upon their wrists. I was impressed by the way that, as the service went on, the noise and chatter in the sanctuary fell away to silence. Slowly, some of the older members of the congregation came forward, hearing the words, "Thou art dust, and to dust you shall return," knowing that in the coming months and years, these words would be true.
With smudged ashes upon our foreheads, my mother and I went to Fred Meyer's, a supermarket chain in the Pacific Northwest, in which the young women at the cash register asked, in complete seriousness: "What's on your forehead? Chocolate dust?" My mother and I thought they were joking at first, and went along with the act, until one young woman simply said, "I really don't understand why you have chocolate dust on your foreheads." Our first evangelical moment for the season of Lent came into play as we explained the reason for the ashes: "It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian Church."
Thus the pilgrimage of Lent has begun again. While yesterday there was the anticipation of the Lenten Pilgrimage to begin; today, the pilgrimage has begun. "Uh-oh" may be the right response for right now.