Ash Wednesday brings up lots of questions among people who consider themselves more spiritual than religious, and it is easy to just dismiss this as a Catholic ritual (although Protestants have also begun using it as well.) We believe there is a deeper MetaSpiritual significance to the special day. We want to emphasize the immense importance of rituals to bring a sense of stability and inner peace, as the outer experience allows us to join with like minds in connecting to the deeper Spiritual Truths with every fiber of your being. So let’s dig in and see how we can also celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent, albeit in a different way!
Why is it called Ash Wednesday? The Traditional History
Let’s begin by understanding the historical background of Ash Wednesday. It occurs on the first day of Lent, forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays) before Easter. It falls on a different date each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter (which is determined by the date of the Pascal Full Moon. This full moon does not correspond to any astronomical event, but is an historical artifact determined from tables.)
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. Where do the ashes come from? The ashes used are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. These ashes are mixed with oil, and this paste is used by the priest or minister to make the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead. The words recited are: “Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
Ashes have been viewed throughout Christian history as a symbol of humility and sacrifice for those who wear them. In this traditional view, the focus is on sinfulness, sorrow, unworthiness, and repentance. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day period of fasting, which shows up as people giving up something they enjoy or some unhealthy habit (such as chocolate, coffee, alcohol, smoking) for 40 days, then joyfully celebrating at the end of the 40 days by binging on whatever they have been fasting
Ash Wednesday From a MetaSpiritual Perspective
From a MetaSpiritual perspective, Ash Wednesday represents our recognition of our Oneness, our worthiness. On this day, we resolve to deny the power of outer appearance which creates the belief in separation from our True Nature.
Our “ritual” takes on a very different tone and practice. We partake in a soup supper as a recognition of our oneness, symbolized by everyone contributing to our simple meal, creating a feast for all. As we break bread together, we acknowledge our like Consciousness as we fellowship and support one another on this Spiritual journey. We then share a meditation, followed by an anointing ceremony.
We substitute sacred oil in place of ashes. By placing a heart on the forehead with oil, we acknowledge our commitment to cross out error and become one with the Truth of who we are. We also believe this less visually obvious symbol supports the scriptural teaching of Jesus, when he advised his followers: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Our fasting looks different, too! We use a “Fasting/Feasting” spiritual practice. We choose to FAST from self-defeating thoughts, choices, attitudes, and beliefs, and FEAST on our affirmation of our worthiness and Oneness. (Here’s a great post with more about fasting from our perspective!)
A Releasing Meditation
Here is an Ash Wednesday Releasing Meditation, which can be followed by a spiritual Communion and anointing of oil (if you wish).
Begin by taking a few deep, cleansing breaths, allowing yourself to relax. As you breathe into this place of peace, think about something in your life you want to release forever. It could be:
- A physical pain or illness
- An emotion that is destructive
- A self-defeating belief or attitude
- An anxiety that disturbs you
- The disappointments of a relationship
- A fear or grudge that is holding you
You may think of several things, but for this meditation, for this Lenten season, just pick one specific thing – something that, if you truly released it, it would make a huge impact on your Truth walk.Now, close your eyes and take a nice, slow, relaxing breath that starts from deep within the center of your being and is drawn slowly and rhythmically into your lungs. Then exhale slowly.
Again … and once more … Gently allow your awareness to move from your head to your heart center.
Now, imagine yourself on a beautiful, quiet, clean beach, on a nice warm day. The ocean is warm and gentle in the cove where you have come to spend some time. Listen to the easy rhythm of the waves as you walk along the shoreline.
This is a calm and private place; the silence is broken only by ocean sounds. You are safe here. It is a place of peace, rest, and healing. Relax now in a comfortable position here on this beach, and enjoy the softness of the sand, the gentleness of the breeze, and the warmth of the sun. Relax, and be at peace . . .
Now, ever so gently, allow yourself to recall that thing you decided to release. Just quietly allow the awareness of it to come into your mind. As you think of it, give it a shape — some physical shape. Use whatever comes to mind first. It could be round like a ball; square like a block; linear like a piece of string; if it is liquid, pour it into some kind of container, so it takes that shape.
Focus on the shape of this thing.
Get a sense of its size . . .
Notice its color . . .
What is its texture?
Does it have any aroma?
Take time to visualize it so you know it very well!
Now imagine you have the magical capability to change the size of this thing. No matter what size it was, stare at it now, and as you are watching, it begins to shrink in size until it can fit into the palm of your hand.
Hold it in your hand, and become aware of the fact that this thing you want to release is no longer inside you; it is no longer a part of you. You are in control of it.
Place this thing on the sand, and step away from it now. Look again at its size, and now begin to dig a hole in the sand. Enjoy the feeling of your hands digging into the soft, warm sand, making a nice large hole, deeper than the size of the thing you are releasing. Feel the immense excitement and anticipation welling up within you as you carefully and joyfully create this hole.
Now lovingly go and pick up the item you want to release. Remember the details about what it was, and take a moment now to say “Thank You” for however it served you, even if you do not understand what that is.
Now gently place this thing you are releasing into the hole you created. Beside the hole, magically has appeared a lighter and a bottle of lighter fluid. Take some time to douse this shape you have created out of what you are releasing – douse it good! Now, use the lighter to ignite what is no longer a part of you, and watch as it is reduced to ashes. Once it has become ashes, and they cool a bit, scoop the ashes up and release them to the air, allowing the breeze to scatter the ashes over the sandy beach.
Know that the thing you would be rid of is beneath the sand, that it has been burned, purified, and released into the Universe as new energy, serving good!
And now, reach down and scoop the sand over the hole, refilling it, smoothing the sand until even the traces of your fingertips disappear. And now, with another cleansing breath, begin walking away from this spot, along the shoreline, focusing on the beauty of this spot and the incredible joy within your being!
As you walk, take a few minutes to visualize what your life is like without that concern or issue or emotion that you released. What are you doing differently? How are you enjoying life? How are you experiencing the freedom of your release?
Allow yourself to experience that wonderful feeling, knowing it is now a part of the Truth of you. Take a few deep breaths as you bring your Consciousness back to this place, knowing that the white heat of Spirit has left the ashes of that error thought, attitude, belief, habit, or fear behind as a residue of your spiritual growth.
As you open your eyes, we remind you that from a MetaSpiritual perspective, Lent represents a time for spiritual growth. Spiritual growth invites us to make a commitment to recognizing our error thinking, and a willingness to let it go, replacing it with Truth. We know that there is only one Power and one Presence in the Universe and in our lives and affairs, the Eternal Presence All Good, Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omni-Activity.
Remember, you are worthy, you are divine, you are One with the One!
You are the face of God!
Here’s our favorite musical reminder of this: