Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category




            We are so penitent.   With our chins resting on the rail of the kneeler, we wait our turns in the darkened church for candles to be crossed at our throats.  We wait for ashes to be formed into smudged crosses on our foreheads by the thumb of the priest.  We are so sorry about everything, about how it all turned out.  We are eight years old.

            Incense hangs heavy near the altar.  The priest is flanked by altar boys our age.  They move back and forth in their flowing robes, blessing every uniformed child, our eyes cast down, our hands pressed together, thumbs locked, fingers pointing toward heaven.  Our favorite statues lord over us, shrouded in purple.  We have to wait now for forty days, the length of time that Christ wandered in the desert, until Easter, when the stone gets rolled away and Jesus comes out all cleaned up wearing white clothes and floats into heaven with little flames coming out of his hands. 

For forty days, we have to give up candy and lying.  We have to be nice to our brothers.  We have to help our mothers.  We have to pray for the poor souls in purgatory.  (It doesn’t occur to us until much later that maybe our mothers are already in purgatory.)  And then there are the babies stuck in limbo, the ones that died before baptism, stained with original sin.

There is a lot for us to worry about.   Mainly, we worry about what it would be like to have thorns pressed into our heads and then get beaten and nailed to a cross. We are told this happened because of us, that this was our fault, even though we weren’t even born yet.  We hadn’t had time to commit a sin, much less an original one. 

We wear our ashes all day.  They are marks of pride and distinction.  They separate us from the Episcopalians our mothers permit us to be friends with since they live next door.  We don’t know any Baptists or Jews because they live in a faithless part of the world that is not redeemed.  Near the Congo.  Or the Bronx.  In fact, we don’t know very much at all except the four gospels, the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, the eight Beatitudes and the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost.  Things we can count on.