Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.
~TS Eliot, "Ash Wednesday"
Ever since I was a child I've had a fascination with Lent. I grew up Southern Baptist, but our small town had a large percentage of Catholics, and the comparatively strange rituals of Catholicism seemed magical even though Catholic Mass, I quickly discovered, was no more engaging to me than a typical Sunday sermon. All that standing up and sitting down baffled me. A pancake breakfast, in comparison, was a much more accessible ritual.
Mass did have two things over our services, though--ceremony, which my spirit craved even at a young age; and a noticeable lack, comparatively speaking, of brimstone and Bible-thumping, or as I like to call it thanks to a certain t-shirt I saw once, Hellfire and Dalmatians. (And He sayeth unto them, "Bad dogs! Bad!") Little did I know that our local priest was engaging in some, er, extracurricular activity in the rectory (though thankfully not with altar boys in this case). The whole Pope thing made me uneasy, and the older I got the less attracted I was to Catholicism's dogma, though the idea of being a nun did, and still does, intrigue me.
Still, as a child I would frequently "give things up for Lent" (with about as much success as most kids, I imagine) and would stare, mesmerized, at the smudge of ash across a friend’s forehead on Ash Wednesday. I was always too self-conscious to ask what it was supposed to mean, or why you had to give something up for Lent. It seemed like a game more than anything else. Local restaurants offered (and still do) special fish meals during Lent, and to me this seemed a particularly grueling sacrifice as I didn’t like eating fish.
What does this have to do with Wicca? Not a blessed thing, although it does provide an interesting contrast in worldview. Wiccans, after all, don't generally devote much energy to concepts like penitence and atonement. Guilt isn't really our stock in trade, as we do not view the world as fallen or human beings as inherently sinful and in need of redemption; although I have observed that, thanks to the religious experiences of our youth, many of us still carry around a great deal of residual guilt that takes years to exorcise.
I'd like to say that this has led me to an in-depth exploration of the concept of guilt and its place or lack thereof in Wicca, or at least a lengthy meandering about the difference between guilt, which cripples the soul's evolution; and regret, which can empower us to create change and heal wounds that we all inevitably cause during our EarthWalk (unless of course we cling to it and transform it into guilt)…but alas, on this lovely warm Ash Wednesday in the year of the Common Era 2007, I am beset by a much more immediate affliction than guilt: cramps.
Therefore, I leave you with this astoundingly brief and fairly pointless post, and go on a holy quest for a bottle of ibuprofen and my thermonuclear heating pad.
(This post was sponsored by our good friends at Acme Parentheses, the world leader in punctuation for confusing asides.)