I'm walking around with whatever is left of my Ash Wednesday smudge. I went to the 12:05 service here at the church. I like the Ash Wednesday service because it's a good start for Lent for me. Gets my brain headed in the right direction.
But as I sat in the pew listening to the reading from Matthew I started to think about the smudge. There's a discussion in some circles about whether we should let our ash mark stay on our foreheads after we leave the service. Traditionally you leave it there till it washes (or wears) off. In fact it's considered rather bad form in some places to even accidentally erase it before the day is over.
On the other hand Jesus tells us NOT to make a show of our prayer and alms giving (Mother Susan pointed out the interesting "dispute" between the Gospel reading and the reading in Joel which call on us to sound the horn and make a public display of our fasting). Let's face it you stand out in a crowd these days if you have a smudge on your forehead, people notice. Then you have to explain. My favorites are the people who feel the need to clean it off for you. Hands to yourself, please.
So upon further consideration of the Gospel I've decided to keep my smudge and let it go it's own road. I haven't looked but in the two hours since the service it may already be gone. I'm keeping it as an intentional sign of this specific day. My goal is to always wear my faith invisibly. Not because I'm ashamed of it but in line with Christ's teaching in today's Gospel. If I'm living my life right my faith should be evident to those who know what to look for. I don't believe that a life in faith (or patriotism for that matter) require big showy demonstrations. If I carry the cross in my heart why do I need it on my lapel? I don't need to carry my smudge with me all the time. Today however is a special day. A day that deserves, in my opinion, a slightly different attitude.
Today I'll carry my outward and visible sign. Not because I want everyone to know how pious I am, or what a good Christian I am. I'll carry it to remind myself of the challenges I still face, the brokenness I still live with and the grace that is offered to me.
I hope you have a blessed Lent.