Bag O’ Ash

Three almost painfully earnest–think Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt–women greeted people alighting from Metro Center this morning. They were wearing big and friendly smiles.

They said “hello,” and then offered up ashes.

I looked again, sideways and not slowing down as to look like I might be a taker of their wares.

It was sunny and cold. All three women had dirt on their foreheads. I did a quick calendar calculation. Yesterday I was drinking whiskey. It was Fat Tuesday. So today would be Wednesday. Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. Today.

I spied a reusable grocery bag to the left of the lay providers of holy ashes. It was like one of those brightly colored plastic totes you could buy at Trader Joe’s with tropical flower colors if not actual outlines of flowers. Were the ashes in there? In that bag? How much did they carry with them? How did they transport them? And why were they so jovial? Is this a celebration of fasting and penitence?

I’m wondering if these cheery women took this task upon themselves? Were they assigned ash distribution for those on the go from their church?

Who did they think would be interested? People who forgot about getting their ashes? Those who couldn’t make it to church?

This is definitely not for Catholics. There wasn’t a street Mass. So maybe for other Christians who do Lent? Or for a casual Lenten observer? Or maybe Lent is #trending for fashionable religious and secular alike? Like ashes from H&M?

Frankly, it’s a weird kind of proselytizing. Usually disciples give out pamphlets not ashes. Maybe the ashes were old pamphlets that they were recycling.

Pope Francis described Lent as a good time “to train ourselves to be more sensitive and merciful.” In that spirit, I am going to stop judging the happy women with the ashes in their shopping bag peddling contrition with a side of penance


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