Many religions predict some kind of final judgment. For the ancient Egyptians it involved a confession by the dead person of their faults and then the weighing of the heart on a great scale against the “feather of maat”.
Maat was the principle of truth and justice. If the heart was too heavy with unconfessed sin and weighed more than the feather, the punishment was not pain but de-creation. For the Egyptians, the idea of non-existence was worse than that of hell.
Life presents different faces of reality to us in an always unpredictable sequence. Getting on a bus or deciding to move to a new apartment may be trivial events of forgettable meaning, or they may become milestones of our life because of the consequences they bring.
Another praxis of Lent, indeed of a gospel lifestyle, is almsgiving. This is usually associated with giving money to good causes but it is only part of its meaning. As Jesus illustrated by his reaction to the poor woman who gave her mite in the temple – she gave more than the rich because she gave with more generosity than them – the spiritual significance of giving is not defined by the number of zeros. To give a little quantitatively may be to give everything spiritually.
Religion without praxis is hypocrisy. In Greek this word means what is done by the free. It is putting theory and good intentions into reality. Spiritually it means living on the level of experience. In praxis we embark on a process rather than just shooting for a goal. We are therefore also accepting and working with our imperfections – because, however good our praxis may be, we are not aiming at our own perfection. This would be to fall right into the trap of the ego.
Realizing you have really lost something sends a shock through your whole system, a pang of grief mixed with anger and confusion. It might be your car keys or someone you love; the intensity and duration of the shock will be different but the immediate resistance to losing what we (think) we possess is built into our psyche.
Today you may see people on the bus or subway or waiting by the photocopier with a dirty mark on their forehead. Like seeing someone meditate in an airport terminal or waiting room you recognize them as fellow travelers on a spiritual journey, not mere strangers passing in the night. It is not a secret sign or an exclusive club but few they are who understand it.
We receive the ashes as a reminder not to waste time. “Remember you are dust and unto dust you will return. Repent and believe the good news”.