What Does Ash Wednesday Worship Look Like in A Pandemic?

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This piece was originally published by ELCA Worship on January 15, 2021 as part of a longer article that can be found HERE with several other reflections.

Most of my personal study and continuing education for the last several months has been focused on trauma-informed care, recognizing that living through the varied events of the last year affects not only our spirit but also our mind and body, and requires adaptations honoring this challenging new space. A best practice for trauma-informed care is to remember that significant stress and trauma are not just intellectual exercises. Our bodies respond to and reflect the events of the day. It may be using prayer beads or a finger labyrinth to make home worship feel more real or wrapping myself in a favorite sweater or soft blanket when I miss the comforting hugs of family and friends. Being mindful of how my body responds to grief and loss and finding ways to care for and comfort it has been both personally and professionally beneficial.

Ash Wednesday is such a powerful experience because we experience it physically. Even when our minds are not fully able to understand the scope of what is to come, when our spirits reject the pain of Jesus’ last days, our bodies remember. Wearing the cross of ashes as a bodily exercise is Jesus meeting us in our body’s anxiety and sadness and being with us there. As an Ash Wednesday discipline, I am encouraging my parishioners to consider ways their body can hold the day’s realities. What rituals, symbols, or actions can help us confront the fragile beauty of these brief, powerful moments of life? How can we remember that we are called to journey with Jesus and pray with him over the next 40 days, knowing what is to come? Our minds may not have the answer, but our bodies carry ancient wisdom.