Ash Wednesday in Pensacola 2011
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
“I forgot to set my alarm” AdventureMan said, coming down the stairs, “we missed the first service.”
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day Lent begins for Christians. We go to church, the priest puts a cross on our forehead in ash, to remind us “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, that our life here on earth is only temporary, and that our true home is heaven.
It’s easier to believe that in your gut when you are an expat.
My cousin wrote to me, and in his email, he wrote that I write about my own culture the same way I wrote about Germany, about Qatar, about Kuwait – as an expat, as an outside observer. Pensacola is like my foreign assignments; I could live here for twenty years (God willing) and I will never be a native, I will always be from somewhere else, the kind of person about whom others will say “she must not be from around here.” I am guessing I will get more comfortable, more confident, but I will always be not-quite-right among the natives.
And that is how we are supposed to be living here on earth – as people not-quite-right, as people eager to return to our true heavenly home.
Lent in my own country is odd to me, now. In a foreign country, you are accustomed to thinking of yourself as a minority; your differentness makes you more aware or who you are, and what you value. There is a part of me that thinks Lent would be a lot easier if, like Qatar, and like Kuwait, and like Saudi Arabia, religious practices were state enforced, like everyone in the USA fasted at the same time, maybe nobody would sell meat or chocolate or alcohol. And then, I think “but what is the point?” The point is our own sacrifice. Is it a sacrifice if it is enforced from the outside?
I can’t sacrifice cussing in traffic this year. Pensacola traffic, by the grace of God, is nearly non-existent, and it is mellow. I’m not even tempted. I’m trying to figure out what I will sacrifice.
Father Neal Goldsborough at Christ Church Episcopal told us on Sunday how all the children come in from the Episcopal Day School to have the ashes imposed, and how poignant it is for him, and I can’t help but think of all the soldiers he has been with at their death, mere children, children of God, and how he must see the faces of these soldiers in the faces of these tiny children. My heart would weep, even knowing they are on their way home.
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