…you were made from dust and to dust you shall return…
On Ash Wednesday I received the imposition of ashes. This is a Christian tradition that marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a period of fasting, penitence and preparation for Easter.
Since a child I have noted that people often “give up something” during Lent, such as a food or treat. The idea is that denying ourselves something is good for us, that self-denial forms our character. While I would argue that Lent is supposed to be a season that includes more than a perfunctory self-denial, that it is a season of fasting with ebbs and flows, that it is a season for self-reflection, than mere “absence” of something–I have no wish to judge or characterize what the season may mean for others. And this year I am actually practicing some particular fasts myself.
I have two particular “fasts” and there area two sides to each: what I won’t do (the fasting part) and what I will do (an active discipline.)
My first fast is Netflix series. I’m hooked, and it’s not just Netflix. Over the previous months I have watched multiples seasons of Narcos (Colombia and Mexico), El Chapo, Outlander, The Americans–those are just a few. These series are designed to be addicting and have spawned the term “binge watch” which means to watch an entire series in one-go, kind of like over-eating. While I have learned something from these, they also have eaten up huge swaths of my time, no pun intended. So, instead of watching, I’m going to read books–six books, in fact, one for each week of Lent.
My second fast is from plastic bags. This is a bit easier for me because I have largely given them up over the past two years and the only real requirement for success is that I remember to take one of our reusable bags into the store when I shop. My wife has already mastered this habit. I was deeply disturbed recently to see an article that they are finding plastic residues in the deepest part of the ocean–the Mariana Trench. That, coupled with the fact that many municipalities are giving up on all or part of recycling, has meant that I need to personally come to grips with my own consumption. As part of my penance, I’m going to make a record of how much plastic that my household consumes during Lent. My personal discipline will also be to see how I can find alternatives to the plastics that I use, great hazards to the environment.
How ironic that when we receive the imposition of ashes and we hear, “from dust you were made and to dust you shall return…” –and we are reminded of not only our own mortality, but of the fact that our bodies actually will decompose after death–how ironic that plastics let loose in the environment may not decompose so easily–“go to ashes”–for thousands upon thousands of years.