Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday in Real Life

Even though it's Ash Wednesday, there's plenty of people out there who are not the type who can get to church. They are working, or they feel disconnected from their own church, or they don't "do" ashes and don't know why their Catholic friends are walking around with dirty foreheads. So as an Episcopal priest, it's an interesting thing to teach people about Ash Wednesday, the whats, whys, and wherefores. Today, I did the Episcopal service at 7PM in the hospital chapel, and had a great crowd with a strong response. I spent the first 8 hours of my shift bouncing around the hospital imposing ashes, educatin', and doing my 'thing'.

On ICU rounds: "Hey guys, just letting you know I'm the chaplain on call tonight. Call me if you need me. And I'm doing ashes until midnight." Them: "Then what?" "Then you're on your own for repenting."

From a person near the chapel: "I would like ashes, but I think I need to make my confession. Are you able to take my confession?" Me: "I'm an Episcopal priest. I'd be glad to hear your confession if you are comfortable." Him: "You don't understand. I've done actual sins." That's right, sir, that's what we like to hear. As the Lutherans say, sin boldly.

On Nuerosurgery: "Can you tell us what the ashes are REALLY made of?" You mean the top-secret, super-holy recipe? Sure. You take year-old palms from Palm Sunday ("Ever been to church on the day when they give you the big green palms and you wave them around and stuff? That day."). You burn them- I recommend using a coffee can and doing it in the company of kids. Kids love burning things, the little pyros. Then you grind them up. I add a few drops of chrism to make them a little sticky. Nurses: "Wow!" Ask me for my secret cream cheese frosting recipe sometime. That's almost as amazing.

Nurses: "So, I don't go to church every Sunday. Maybe twice a month. But you know, I work nights, I work weekends. I mean, I want to sleep. I figure I'll just make God mad twice a month." Me: "You know, I'd give you a pass on that one. I think God would want you to sleep and be healthy and have fun with your family. I'll let you off the hook." Her: "Are you really sure?" Me: "I used to tell my police officers the same thing all the time. You're fine. And you swear a lot less than they did, so you got a leg up right there."

Me to nurse: "You know, maybe the way we do church these days isn't really how our society relates to the Almighty at this time in human history." Her: "Well, I mean, yeah, Sunday mornings? And I don't like it when they tell you when to sit, when to talk, when to stand, when to kneel, when to give money every time they ask for it. I think you should do it because it's the right thing to do for you, not because they just tell you to." Hmmm... generation X. Independent buggers, we.

Me: "Chaplaincy is fun partly 'cause of all the different religions. My personal favorite is the Pastafarians... they respond to prayers by saying "Raaaaamen." Them: "You're kidding about that one... right?" I love how people take everything I say as if it's gospel truth. Oh, the looks when people realize I'm totally telling fibs sometimes...

Walking through the ED with ashes and a dirty thumb... "Hey, chaplain, can we get some too?" "Hey, chaplain, we missed church! Can you come here?" "Hey, chaplain, I'm Catholic, I can't believe I missed church, I'm so upset!" Hey, chaplain, thank you so much! I was so upset about missing church today, of all days!" "Hey, chaplain, can you call my mom for me? Why's your finger all dirty? Ew."

And now Ash Wednesday is officially over. It's time to head up to the on-call room, read me some iPhone Kindle, and catch a nap until the next page goes off. If I'm lucky, I'm in for a serene night.


Lisa T. said...


Klassiklehrer said...

That day I was with my 19-year-old at Carnegie Hall. Missed the ashes entirely; instead, Mahler Symphony #3 done by the Royal Concertgebouw from Amsterdam. Splendid. "Remember that thou art mortal, but great music is not." That was sort of the message.

If I hadn't worked that day, I could have gone in earlier and taken ashes at St. Thomas. But it was a decent replacement for the usual penitence.