I've only observed this holy day two years now. I didn't grow up in a tradition that observed the Church calendar apart from the major holidays of Christmas and Easter.
Discovering the calendar has been rich, to say the least. I've been through about eight years of shedding tradition as completely as I could, and coming around to a place where I can take part in the depth of the observances without the baggage of emptiness I thought they held for me.
My sweet family of brothers and sisters that I meet with each week, they are my faith community. We are a house church - which typically means a turning away from traditions from institutional church - and we use the Book of Common Prayer. We observe the Church calendar, and we have explored together, in the intimacy of our living rooms, a way to mark that we are a people with a different paradigm. We mark our time with holy seasons. We don't care about historical or chronological accuracy. I know Jesus for all intents and purposes was probably not really born on Dec 25.
But that is not the point.
These seasons, like creation, lead us through change, transformation, and ultimately refine the way we see this world. We are a people with a purpose in this world.
Most importantly for myself, Ash Wednesday and the church calendar connect me to the global Church and remind me that
I don't have this thing figured out. I don't have the perfect answers. My precious little community is not the epicenter. I am not the epicenter of what God is doing in this world. It gets me out of myself.
Ashes. A symbol of mortality, reminds me that even my little community has its smudges. It is not pristine, nor should it be. It will change. I will change. Life comes from death. And in my little community, we are safe to walk together as we learn to die to live.
And so today, I'll go to a traditional service to receive ashes and worship liturgically and remember that I am dust that for a time is working and longing and praying for something beyond myself: redemption of all things through Christ.