The East Village is filled with ashes today as Christians prepare for 40 days of self-restraint, atonement and fasting. Even if you’re not the religious type, you probably still noticed people walking the streets with gray crosses on their foreheads and realized it’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. To celebrate, we actually went to church.
Ash Wednesday used to be a day for “notorious sinners,” explained the Reverend J. Donald Waring, presiding over his congregation at Grace Church on Broadway. People who had been excommunicated began the forty day process of reconciliation by smearing ashes onto their foreheads.
These days, it’s a time to “turn from our old ways and begin anew.” And church isn’t the only place where you can get ashes. According to Twitter, clergy have stationed themselves in train stations and city squares all over the city, providing “ashes-to-go” for people who forgot.
Whatever meaning you choose to give the first day of Lent, it’s certainly a great excuse to walk around town wearing the closest thing we have to socially acceptable tribal paint. It’s like a secret code. Recognizing my markings, people stopped to talk to me on the street. Some even waved as they bicycled past. For something that’s meant to be all about repentance, Ash Wednesday was a remarkably cheerful day, as these selfie-taking priests confirm!