As "low church" Protestants in a Catholic world, we had always felt as if we were on the outside looking in. But it never seemed to matter much before--not until that first Ash Wednesday. We were reminded, using the church's liturgy, that we were not welcome, that we did not belong.
I must confess, it took me many years to let go of the anger and the hurt that the priest imposed on me with those ashes. Many Ash Wednesdays have passed since that day, but since that day I have since been strangely comforted by those same ancient words: "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." So I mourn for that priest--who spent the next several years making equally insensitive comments to us. I mourn for the church, and how we fail to embrace those who do not look like us. I mourn for the hate and the violence that have invaded our world and robbed us of innocence and kindness and joy. I mourn for my own myopic vision of the faith and ask God to forgive me. Wednesday's ashes remind me that God is not finished with me, nor is He finished with the church. He has given us another chance.
Tomorrow, I will mourn. But I will also rejoice that Ash Wednesday's repentance will lead to Resurrection Sunday's victory. That's what Lent means for me. That's what it means for those who do not have the tradition, yet we embrace its significance. That's what Lent is for the rest of us.