Glitter, Ashes, and Repentance
First, let me say, given everything I said in part one, I need to write this: I love glitter. (It makes many who love me thoroughly annoyed, and with good reasons. But I love it!)
It is the season of Carnival, Mardi Gras is coming on Tuesday, and I am wearing glitter in my hair.
This purple-haired, fat, queer, ciswoman, femme, minister-witch is wearing glitter right now. And this purple-haired, fat, queer, ciswoman, femme, minister-witch is loving all the little bits that get everywhere. (I have SUCH guilt about its getting everywhere, but I also love finding a piece in my hair two weeks after I put some there and have taken multiple showers.)
I didn’t put the glitter on to write this piece, though I would have if I’d thought of it. I put it on because I went to college in the ‘90s and I am queer as fuck.
There is an article here which says that glitter can help to resolve the difficulties people have with Ash Wednesday. The difficulties with ashes. The difficulties with despair. The difficulties with death in the Christian tradition. And significantly, the difficulties the Christian church continues to have with queerness and queer people.
The author writes, “Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a season of repentance. During Lent, Christians look inward and take account in order to move forward with greater health. At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.”
Stop with the Blending Already
At the very least, and at my most flippant, I have to ask, “Then shall we have ashes at Easter? At Christmas?”
Ashes are not about despair. They are about a couple of very important realities. We return whence we came. Both creation and death.
They are part of the soil that grows the holly bush of Christmas, and they are what is left when our bodies are consumed, whether by fire or simple decomposition. What do we do in the middle, between this creation and this decaying? (What do we do?)
Furthermore, in the middle of that coming and going, we tend to forget who we are and who we hope to be. We need reminding.
It’s that piece in the Parity article about “blending symbols…of penance and celebration” that really gets me. The liturgical year (like the Wheel of the Year) exists in part so that we may experience a range of symbolic, ritual, transformative moments.
Each moment in its time. Not penance and celebration. Not Ash Wednesday and Easter. Not Good Friday and Epiphany.
Who’s Doing the Atoning?
I do think the idea of queering symbols and rituals is valid and sometimes helpful. Especially when rituals call the Church to change itself, for congregants and leaders to change, to turn back toward the love of the God whom they ostensibly worship.
The Church, writ large especially, needs to atone for its treatment of queer people, among others it and its adherents consistently rejects. But glitter in the ashes is not the Church atoning. It is trying to take the repentance (I said I’d get back to it!) out of Ash Wednesday.
And so repentance needs its own discussion. What it is, what it isn’t, and why people need it.
Return to Me
From Joel 2:12-13a (NRSV)
12 “Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God…”
I cannot type it, cannot say it, cannot hear it without thinking of longing. Of God’s longing for God’s people. Rend your heart—be heartbroken as the God of love must be heartbroken when Their People turn away.
And I see the penance, I see the ashes, I see the desire for sincere return, not some disingenuous, half-assed approach while giving a fearful sideways glance.
What Repentance Is and Is Not
The verb here “return” is shub, in Hebrew, “to turn back toward,” similar to the Greek metanoia and our “repent.” To repent is not to beat yourself into some kind of submission: You are DUST, you son of EARTH, you must be ASHAMED!
To repent is to acknowledge that I have been turned around, away from where I want to be. That I have drifted off course, and even that I am inclined by habit to do so.
Yes, such drifting is a cause for mourning and for fasting, but these are not the same things as despair. I can mourn my failures without being consumed by them.
But one day of mourning? One day of remembering? One day—even forty! —of remembering how to turn back toward the One to Whom Christians claim allegiance…these are not too many.
My teacher of Islam was Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmed, a Sunni Muslim. He told me that while Muslims by and large do not espouse the ide aof Original Sin, capital O, capital S, they do have an important concept that links us to that idea of early, repeated falling short.
For Muslims, the problem human beings have is forgetfulness. We/They forget that we are the stewards (often called “vicegerents”) for God. For Muslims, it is the Five Pillars, and especially their daily prayers they say to be reminded of who they are and Whose they are.
I think all of us can use a handful of spiritual forget-me-nots. We need to be reminded of who we are and to whom we belong. Who is that? Who are we? Who are the people and other beings in our life to which we are beholden? To Whom/whom do we belong? God? Ourselves? The Many and the One? Our values? What is it?
Next up, the final installment.
“Another Problem Solved by Truth-Telling”