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Ash Wednesday

The only counter cultural holiday we have left

by Ken Sehested

Several years ago, at an Ash Wednesday service, the woman preaching that evening made a stunning confession. “Ash Wednesday is actually my favorite holiday,” she said. Pretty strange, we all thought—and she immediately acknowledged it was a highly unusual thought. Not Halloween candy and masquerades, not Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie; not Christmas gifts and visits from Santa; not even Valentine’s Day romance, or President’s Day sales, or chocolate bunnies on Easter, complete with all that good organ music and the onset of spring.

Ash Wednesday? Burned palm fronds smeared on the forehead, in a shape that originally marked one for assassination? What kind of masochistic movement is this? I mean, I’m just now beginning to get over a lot of self-hatred I learned as a kid, and now you’re telling me I actually need to embrace suffering?

The preacher for that service went on to point out that Ash Wednesday is the only counter cultural holiday we have left—the only holiday that hasn’t been seriously co-opted by commercial interests and politically-innocuous entertainment. Hallmark makes no cards for Ash Wednesday.

©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org