Skipping the Ashes (Or, How the Momming Schedule is Humbling the Rev.)

New season: purples for Lent.

A photo posted by Erica Schemper (@eschemper) on Feb 10, 2016 at 7:05am PST

If you ask me, when I’m in full-on-clergy mode, I’ll tell you that Ash Wednesday is a wonderful liturgical tradition for kids. It’s the sort of church ritual that they can actually touch. Someone puts dirt on their heads. They will ask questions. You can have deep theological discussions about it on the way home. Fascinating.

The perennial problem, of course, being that Ash Wednesday never seems to fit well into the schedule of people who have other things going on.

Today, for example, I am occupied from the crack of dawn until 9:30am with little people waking up and getting a couple of them off the to school. Then the baby (who is now really toddler who naps best in her crib) needs to take a nap (she’s been deprived of a good nap time for a couple days), which I’ll have to wake her up from when I have to do the first school pick up at noon. A few hours later, we pick up the big kid from girl scouts, and then we have a weird hour and a half window of time before her swimming lesson. By then, it will be time to prep dinner, and around 6:30pm, the energetic five year old will transform into a crazy person who needed to go to bed 20 minutes ago.

Most churches around here have a 7:30pm Ash Wednesday service. Mine included. Erik and Zora will likely go. I’ll stay home with the people who are melting down at that time of night.

A few places have a noon service (note that noontime school pick up…so we can’t pull that off); and I even found a 4:00pm, but it’s during a swimming lesson.

My dream scenario is that a neighborhood pastor thinks of it to do ashes to go somewhere convenient to those of us dropping small people off at school. My perfect dream scenario is that I should be that local pastor: last year this time I was thinking that I should really talk to the school and position myself on the sidewalk wearing my clerical collar and bearing ashes. But the logistics of how I’d drop my own children off and manage that toddler for the hour overwhelmed me.

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, if Lent is a sort of spiritual Spring cleaning to make room for Easter. Perhaps I should have rescheduled the day, canceled a swim lesson, decided we would go without a nap, planned to retrieve people from school at a different time. I’ll admit, back in the day of full time pastoring, when I had the luxury of great childcare, and hours to devote to arranging my schedule around church, I was inclined to think everyone should reschedule their lives around the churchy stuff.

But more and more, I realize how difficult it is to break the pattern and rhythm of our own lives (and the lives, in my case, of the three small people with whom I am currently tasked). And more and more I wonder if we forget that spiritual practice has to happen in the warp and weave of the other stuff we have to do: this is so easy to forget when you’re the professional who (almost literally) lives in the church building (aka “the cloisters”). There’s a particular power about holiness that can break into the ordinary stuff.

The best we’re doing around here is lighting the purple candles on the table to mark the change of seasons. And maybe, during that nap, I’ll give myself a few minutes to read through the scripture passages I’d hear if I could go and sit through an entire Ash Wednesday service.

(Apparently, Ash Wednesday and kids has been on my mind before…)