ashes to ashes

I don’t get it.

I did it, but I don’t get it.

Tonight’s reading, from Matthew — When one fasts, don’t disfigure your face as the hypocrites do so that those who see you on the street know that you’re fasting, for there your reward will be, but put oil in your hair, and go out into the world with a smile on your face, and your Father, who sees you fasting in secret, will reward you in heaven.

And then we have the pastor put ashes on our forehead.

For those of you who haven’t figured it out already, I am very !!! conflicted about religion. I have often in my life felt the presence of an enormous spiritual power, although it seems to me to stem more from our collective energy than from a Benevolent Dictator, but there it is — something enormous and beautiful and far beyond the understanding of my feeble little mind.

And, I have a church job. This church job allows me to a) teach ~ 4 fewer hours less every week, and b) play great music every Sunday, working with other wonderful musicians and for a congregation which really seems to appreciate what I have to offer from a musical standpoint. (After the service tonight, as I finished the Postlude — the second Barber Excursion, which conforms to the dark and somber mood of Ash Wednesday — my biggest fan, Paul, whom I believe to be in his 60s, gave a silent “whoop whoop” with his fist.) I don’t generally take communion, as I am usually playing during Communion, and am not really sure I’m comfortable with the cannibalistic-ritual of consuming the “body” of Christ anyway. But as I waited for the pastors to complete the imposition of ashes, and wasn’t playing the “background” music at the time, I listened to them intone repeatedly, “From dust you come, and to dust you shall return,” and decided there wasn’t really anything wrong with being reminded of that, so up I went.

But doesn’t this count as “disfiguring my face,” as do the hypocrites?

I do like the last line of the Matthew reading: “For where your treasure goes, so goes your heart.”

Nothing wrong with being reminded of that, either.

4 Responses to “ashes to ashes”

  1. March 10, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Very thought provoking.

  2. 2 Sam
    March 10, 2011 at 1:12 am

    I like that line – “you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” but I like it out of context, because it sounds like something a philosopher might say against religion.

  3. 3 lmarkum
    March 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    I can sympathize with having questions about the meaning involved in church services and about religion in general. I think the fact that you are pondering these questions is natural and healthy.

    It seems that the idea Jesus is getting at in the Matthew passage about fasting is that the religious leaders of the day were doing religious acts with the wrong motive. Their motive was to have people see them doing their religious acts. Their motive was not to place their heart and soul in the presence of God. Because of their desire to be seen by people they would make sure that their face was somber and indicative of a person who was suffering through a fast.

    In that same section of Matthew, Jesus offers two other examples of this behavior on the part of the religious leaders. They were praying for the purpose of being heard and seen by others and they gave money in such a way that people would notice. Jesus spoke out against their pretense and urged people to have authentic, heart relationship with God.

    As for your concerns about taking communion, only you and God know your motives for going up to take communion, and there are many ideas surrounding the meaning of communion. Two ideas are as follows. First, some see it as a purely symbolic act meant to remind the follower of Jesus about the deep love of God for us expressed on the cross. Second, others believe that the bread and wine actually become the blood and body of Jesus.

  4. March 12, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Are you Catholic? Because being raised a Protestant (Methodist), communion wasn’t about imbibing the body of Christ — it was symbolic. I never felt uncomfortable taking communion because I knew it was symbolic. Don’t know how I’d feel if I was supposed to think the wafer was really his body and the wine was actually Christ’s blood. A bit too graphic for me.

    However, as I got older I rejected organized religion. Didn’t work for me. EXCEPT when I had a church job (soprano ringer in a choir). The best part of church, hands down, growing up and as I became an adult, was the music. Still is. I LOVE the musical aspects of church and still yearn for a New Year’s Eve church service, for Easter and Christmas music. Church, for me, IS the music. The rest, well, the rest I tune out until it’s time to sing (and no, I don’t attend church any more, and haven’t had a church job in many years).

    How wonderful you have a sophisticated enough congregation to enjoy the wonderful pieces you mentioned. I’ve worked at all kinds of churches. Learned a big lesson at the last one, which was a small little church outside of Wash., DC, in MD. They could only afford ONE paid singer, and that was me. And the choir director, Bob, didn’t play the piano or organ well, so we did pretty simple pieces. The solo each week was me singing a hymn that Bob selected that Sunday, which I practiced once (that morning) with him. We decided which (2) verses I’d sing, and during the offering I’d get up and sing it. Nothing fancy. I sort of chafed at doing simple hymns, because I’d sung in much fancier churches and had gotten to sing much more sophisticated music.

    But you know what? The people there really enjoyed what I sang. I constantly got feedback from them after the service like, “I just love that hymn and it was so nice to hear it.” “That’s one of my favorites and you sang it so well.” Stuff like that. People enjoyed hearing simple music they could readily understand. And that’s when I understood that no matter WHAT I sang, if it was sung from the heart and if people liked and understood the piece, then they were happy. It was a great lesson for me and ever since I’ve had a little more respect for those simple hymns sung well.

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