You may remember the curious #Ashtag phenomenon from last year, where people posted pictures of themselves wearing the ashes from Ash Wednesday. #Ashtag became quite the cultural phenomenon, and was even covered by mainstream media sources that otherwise would have had no reason to devote any time to this tradition. Stirring up lively conversation about Lent is an admirable (and difficult) goal, and so for this, the #Ashtag had its uses.
But before we whip out our cell phones and even our selfie sticks this year (yes, selfie sticks are a thing), it’s worth reeducating ourselves regarding the nature of the selfie, and the purpose of Ash Wednesday. As the name would imply, selfies are inherently about ourselves: where we are, what we are doing, and what we happen to look like while doing that thing. While not the sign of moral decay that many old people might imagine (and by “old people,” I mean anyone older than myself), even the most enthusiastic selfie-taker has to admit that the focus is clearly the self.
The intent behind Ash Wednesday is in most ways the complete opposite. Ash Wednesday derives both its name and its meaning from the ashes which are spread on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. These ashes are a tangible way to remind ourselves of our mortality, hence the proclamation that accompanies this tradition, “From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.” Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of Lent, a season of self-denial where we often forgo something of this world in order to focus instead on the things of God. The ashes themselves are the burnt remains of the palm leaves of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The day remembers the moment when Jesus refuses ...1
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