Ash Wednesday

ash1

…according to thy lovingkindness, according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.

I’ve never been a good Christian. Even as an adult, going willingly to church every Sunday, I could not bring myself to be baptized. I was always a wild creature, resisting the tether of faith or name, and have wanted to be free above all else.

In the end I rejected the Christian church because it had no place for my ecstacies. But even after this decision, I went to church every Ash Wednesday to be anointed with ash and oil, and I would have a good cry. For years I would cry for being outside of the church– the whore/witch who refused repentance.

Strange then that I would find the one ritual associated with repentance the most moving– or perhaps not so strange in that as a “sinner” in the eyes of the church, it would be the open door. Or perhaps it’s just easier to be among Christians when they have assumed a position of humility, if even for a day, wearing on their foreheads a momento mori. The church I went to was full of lapsed Catholics, many gay men and women who’d found themselves outside of the church but not outside of their own faith. It was easier to kneel in such company.

After moving to the UK, I found more comfort in the green spaces and the ancient stones: wild affirmations surrounded me with an immediacy the church never held.

One Easter I found myself in Canterbury and out of curiousity I’d gone into the church during the service, all godly and somber, full of pensioners and wailing babies, families going through the motions of the good news. At one point we turned and shook hands and, according to my partner, I’d done it wrong, said the wrong thing, used two hands instead of one, turned to the wrong person– I can’t even remember now, but I took this news hard. It was as if he’d let out a secret, outed me as the spy I was. I felt dizzy and almost fainted with a rush of history, of consciousness that was unbearable. A stark realization: I was not singular at all, but from a long line of the cunning that had been shut out, humiliated, burnt.

Ashes to ashes– it’s in this spirit that I still celebrate the Wednesday so, remembering my sisters at stake.