Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sin & Ashes

It's time for some redemption on this blog. Perhaps my greatest sin here is my lack of total honesty. Even when giving my answers on the Ann Landers Teen Sex Quiz, I knew I was being coy, holding something back. Here I am, trying to be a Bad Girl, and yet I know that I will never share my worst behavior with you. It shames me too much, and I'm no Britney Spears, shaving my head for all to see.

Historically speaking, by the way, women have for centuries been shaving their heads as an act of contrition.

I'm afraid that if I reveal the truly bad things I've done, you'll reject me. So I just go on being coy. That's my way.

That said, I recently sinned against my precious husband and felt bad enough about it that I went to church to seek forgiveness. This is a good season for redemption, seeing how it's Lent. So after drinking a few martinis at the pub on Tuesday night, the following afternoon I went to St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue to get an Ash Wednesday smudge on my forehead.

Note: I'm not Catholic, so I probably committed a sin by getting the smudge because I wasn't properly sanctified before getting it. I asked my friend Laura, an Episcopalian priest, about this, and she doesn't know if the Catholics require pre-Ash Wednesday smudging preparations. But she does say that may be one of the few things that they don't require preparation for. Anyway, if you saw the line of sinners circled all round the block, awaiting the smudge, you'd have a pretty good idea of just how many people of all colors and creeds are in sore need of that ashen cross on their foreheads.

Laura calls this smudging of ashes business "imposing," and she got to impose lots of ashes at the service last Wednesday where she served as a guest priest: "As I put a cross on each person's forehead I said: 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.' I tried to say it in a warm voice so it didn't sound overly Calvinistic (Calvin was big on our inherent baseness) or morbid. I wanted it more to be a helpful reminder of our mortality so we can live life to the fullest and have an appropriate sense of humility."

As for me, my St. Patrick's priest said: "Repent. Turn to the good news." Laura says that sounds quite contemporary. But to be honest, I would rather have heard: "Go and sin no more," which is definitely older, as in Biblical. I suppose this is because I don't get to church much, so when I do go, I like to be shaken to the core. Plus, I like the old Biblical language. It's grand and it makes me cry.

9 comments:

Lisanne said...

Growing up, our priests never said anything when they gave you the ashes. They just plonked you in the forehead with their thumb. I don't remember anyone walking around with these Manson family like crosses on their foreheads as they do today. It marks the beginning of lent which is the period that you give up something you absolutely love until Easter, when Christ rose from the dead. It's not really about being a sinner. The giving up is so you can suffer a little, so you relate to Christ's suffering. Although giving up chocolate or ice cream is not nearly as painful as getting your wounds bathed in vinegar, it's something!

If you want Catholic redemption the only way is to go to confession. There you have to tell the priest in a little box with a screen between you. It's terrifying. If you can't bear to say your sin out loud you can lump it into the phrase like I often did "these and all my other sins, may they please be forgiven" the "other sins" being the stuff you can't bear to say to anyone even if it is supposed to be confidential. Then he will tell you to say 3 "Our Father's" and 2 "Hail Mary's" and you are pure again (except for that damn original sin we are all born with). I think you start being able to go to confession after you make your Confirmation but don't quote me on that.....anyway just a little info on the ways of the catholic church....

Anonymous said...

hONESTY IS OVERRATED

Joyce Hanson said...

Thanks for the info, Lisanne! Personally, I'm a "cafeteria Protestant," as someone once told me, which means I can flit around from one place to the next, as it suits me. I like little tastes of this and that, but I'd hate to eat the same meal all the time. Anyway, speaking of food, this year I've given up RESTAURANTS for Lent, and that means both sit-down and take-away. No delivery, no spaghetti and meatballs from Rocky's, no Chinee, no deli sandwich at lunchtime, no nuthin'! Tonight, I'm going to the movies, and I'm packing a peanut butter sandwich cuz I can't eat the popcorn!

Lisanne said...

I gave up Catholicism!

deb said...

what did you do to that poor husband of yours that was worth smudging your make-up for? x

Anonymous said...

Can a Bad Girl go to church and have a husband? I think not really...

Anonymous said...

I wanna hear more about the daring women who have shaved heir heads! Now that takes balls (ovaries)

Joyce Hanson said...

Bessie Smith (see post above) had a husband and went to church. When she wasn't having sex with girls or punching people out. Actually, that's one of the fun things about bad girls--they're passionate and spiritual. A classic case is Bettie Page, who turned out to be quite a religious gal--go check out the link I just added to "Bad Girls Galore" on the right. Thanks to my friend Ben for sending it!

Anne said...

Speaking of Matthew Fox...(the guy I mentioned on my blog where you commented)

One of his theological ideas is "original blessing" as opposed to "original sin." That what makes us human is our creativity, not our sin. I like thinking of it this way, that our spiritual path is about connecting with our creative, positive selves, rather than punishing ourselves for our "baseness," as you so aptly put it.

Maybe redemption is less about finding our own flaws and more about BUILDING ourselves into awake participants in this world's inherent creativity.

That said, I also respond to the 12-step notion of a "moral inventory." Where taking a hard look at our actions is essential to finding balance and freeing ourselves from the weight of resentments.

Cool blog! I'll read on.