A heart-filled Catholic Mennonite Ash Wednesday reflection

By Nikki Pauls

Ash Wednesday always sneaks up on me. Always. No matter what, it’s always like “shoot, THIS week is Ash Wednesday? Really? You sure?” And now this year messed me up even more with the ever popular Valentine’s Day overshadowing it. So once I figured out that we were going to have a Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday duel, I’m not going to lie about my first reaction being disappointment because it messed up my usual Valentine’s Day dinner plan (which always includes toasted meat raviolis). But I only lamented a moment. Meat raviolis can be subbed out easily for the ricotta ones. And of course, Ash Wednesday is the big guy. I love it, I really do.

Although my parents were never much into going to church in the middle of the week, once I was able to make my own faith decisions (and drive), I can’t recall missing an Ash Wednesday service. When I was in college, often times this meant going to church in the middle of the day, and having to deal with “you’ve got something on your head” for the rest of the day. As a full-time working married adult person, the schedule became even more complicated and I didn’t love the idea of going to Catholic Church for my ashes alone. So we found something at Rainbow Mennonite that was perfect for both of us. I got my ashes and somber music, Brian got his Mennonite service, and we were both happy.

Enter Yiyi. A child not raised in the church. A child who had no idea who the Easter Bunny was, let alone the Lenten season.

So we took her to her first Ash Wednesday Taizé service, thinking she may hate it. We enticed her by allowing her to wear a princess dress. But, turns out, she didn’t hate it. So when the next year arrived, we all went with a good attitude. And in the middle of it, I looked over to her and saw that she was crying. I’m still not sure she understood the words, and even if she did, I’m not sure they resonated with her. When we asked her about it on the way home, she just kept repeating how beautiful it all was – the singing, the lighting, the mood, everything. And so, then it occurred to me that if a child, with limited English and who hadn’t yet accepted Christ, was becoming emotional about the beauty of it, perhaps that’s what it is all about. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved it. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always made it a priority in my adult life. For a season wrought with sacrifice and sad reflection on what these 40 days were for Jesus, and therefore what they should mean for us, it is really beautiful.

And so, today I will rush around between work and making a heart shaped cake and taking teenagers where they need to be for after school activities. And Valentine’s Day will be all up in my face. But I will take some time to sit and think about the majesty that is the Lenten season and remember how incredible this all is.

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