I have smudged my daughters with ash in years past, and this year was no different. But this year, I helped my five-year-old make her first Lenten sacrifice: she's giving up playing games on her parents' tablets.
Last year I remember reflecting on the habit of giving things up for Lent, and I remember being chagrined at the idea that people were giving something up for Jesus' sake. As a Thean, I no longer pray to Jesus, but to Thea, mother of all creation. And my Lenten sacrifice is not for her sake, but for mine: that my heart, however hardened it may have become over the last year, may be softened once again.
I want to teach my daughter about this softening of heart, because I think it matters. It matters that we learn at some point that we shouldn't always get what we want. It matters that we should be able to willingly give up something that we do want. The emptying of self and ego's desire is one of the great lessons of Lent. If ever there is a time for letting go of unnecessary or unhealthy attachments, Lent is it. Lent is a reminder that our superficial desires can get in the way of what we most deeply desire--in my case, loving union with Thea and her sacred body, Creation. For my older daughter, learning the idea of selflessness is just the first step. As she gets older, I trust she'll learn to make more meaningful sacrifices--sacrifices that go beyond her. I'm giving up chocolate that isn't certified Fair Trade for Lent because I was reminded recently of the child slave labor that is behind much of the world's cocoa production. Eating Snickers bars, as much as I love to do so, doesn't help those enslaved children--it is very likely what helps keeps them enslaved. It's easy for me to overlook this because their world is so very far away from me, but those children are my own sisters and brothers, my own nieces and nephews, and my heart belongs to them as much as it belongs to me.
When I apply ash to my daughters' foreheads, I say, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This is not just a statement of their mortality--it is a reminder that they are of the earth, of the universe, and they always will be. They are of this creation, just like those enslaved children in Africa, and they belong to it, just as all the people of this world belong to each other. I want my daughters to learn to care not only for themselves, but for those around them, especially those who are in any way oppressed. I want them to learn to lift up others by the way they live their lives, and to be willing to change their lives when they realize that they are complicit in the oppression of others. I also want them to learn to trust in those people who are willing to look deeply at their own hearts and transform them. Those with Lenten hearts, whatever their religious background, are our hope for the creation's future.
For more information about child slave labor in the cocoa industry, visit slavefreechocolate.org.