I kicked off the month of March today with Ash Wednesday. For all of you non-religious or non-Christian types out there, Ash Wednesday is recognized in the western church as the beginning of the forty days that precede Easter (the high point of the whole Christian year, no matter what the marketing campaigns may try to convince you about Christmas…) It is traditionally a time of fasting, restraint, as Christians all over the world re-read, tell, and reflect on the story of Calvary.
I am your standard, non-denominational protestant for my druthers, but I have to tell you, my high church friends really know how to do those special, stand-out days in the Christian year. So when my friend, “Ryan,” a good and practicing Catholic (and my chief “Faith, Religion, and Philosophies on Life” buddy) asked me if I wanted to go with him to Ash Wednesday Mass, I went for it.
There were definitely some funny moments, including but not limited to when we were kneeling during the preparation and blessing of the Eucharist. (We will ignore the fact that I almost got my shins taken out as I didn’t realize the kneeler was coming down right when it was…) They were singing a song that apparently everyone knew by heart except for me, so I’m trying to (discretely) thumb through this twenty page bulletin trying to figure out where on earth we are. We Protestants tend to keep our songs all on screens in the front or out of one hymnal, and our memorized songs are pretty much limited to the Doxology, which is ten measures long–twelve if you count the “Amen.” Bulletins are strictly places to include announcements and the name of the sermon. Anyway, so here I am, trying to figure out where on earth this dumb song is so I can sing it, but trying to do it discretely, on a kneeler, without giving the person in the pew in front of me paper cuts. Finally, Ryan can’t take it anymore and he takes my bulletin, but I feel much better when it takes him a while to find the song, too. But, fortunately, it is a refrain that we sang a bunch of times, so I still had time to sing it once I got there.
There is nothing quite like being the low church protestant at a Mass. I’m getting better at it, though. I have learned, from past experience, that when you say the Lord’s Prayer, you stop in the middle so the priest can say some things. (Not that I ever barreled right straight through and was in the middle of the “forever and ever” before I realized I was the only one talking or anything. Because I totally didn’t…)
But, for all the getting lost and confused, and trying to make sure you’re standing at the right time, I love visiting my Christian brethren and sister-en of other backgrounds. And as I was sitting in church tonight, I reflected on how amazing it is–all over the world today, people from so many denominations, nations, and backgrounds, all gathered together to recognize the darkness of our world, our need for a Savior, and focusing our attention and spiritual eyes on the road that leads to the cross. It is a powerful thing to think about. Even though we are all so different–some stand and some kneel, some shout praises and some are silent in wonder, some sing songs hundreds of years old and others songs with ink that’s barely dry–we all end up in church. Through all of our uniqueness, our foibles, and our preferences, we are all still bounded together in the One we worship. That is an awesome thing. And that makes my bruised shins worth it.