As Ash Wednesday worship approached this year, a photo appeared several times on my FB feed, shared by many a clergy and congregational colleague.
Many of you probably get the joke. “You are but dust and into dust you shall return” is the phrase commonly said, and most solemnly, as the pastor or priest smudges a cross on the forehead of Ash Wednesday worshipers, as they come forward to receive this most dramatic mark of Lenten penance and Easter preparation. This pronouncement is first found in Genesis 3:19, as an extremely miffed God condemns Adam and Eve to a life of endless suffering and struggle after their consumption of forbidden fruit. (If you are interested, you can find my take on the humor of the Adam and Eve saga, see my blog entry "The Story of Original Spin" posted 3/11/14.)
Most shared this Ash Wednesday bulletin photo on FB with the a note about the importance of proofreading or the perils of spellcheck.
And as you can imagine, many of the FB responses to this post have been hilarious! For example:
** I remember this verse! They skipped the beginning…. Doesn’t it start with “asses to asses”? Or have I fallen “behind” in my spiritual recall? Seriously…am I in “a-rears”?
** Butt dust is what we should all aspire to be.
** Well, only “you know who” knows where all the dust is and shower it has been for all time….
** This will crack you up…
** Is tomorrow ASS WEDNESDAY? I know I’m going to hell.
Like all good comedy, this photo wakes up the funny bone of many and invites them to add their own two cents! (Although for me it only one cent, er scent!! ha ha ha ha!!)
Actually, it brings to mind for me a million and one possibilities for retort, especially because the misspelled bulletin sits atop a United Methodist Program Calendar!
It also brings to mind something the Comic Lens has wanted to say for quite some time: despite Ash Wednesday’s stern and sober emphasis on our sinful, mortal nature as we begin our journey with Jesus to the cross, there is also something quite inherently humorous - literally and figuratively - about this day.
After all, the word “humor” comes from the same indo-European root as the word “humus,” ie dirt. And these two are closely related to the word “human.” And the word “humility.”
And let’s face it - the stuff we tend to laugh at most loudly, immediately (and probably shame-facedly) is quite earthy - literally and figuratively. It involves the embarrassing stuff our body does that’s beyond our conscious control, stuff that is usually labeled “dirty” and inappropriate for to mention.
(For example, I humbly admit it - at least here - that I couldn’t stop laughing - and, hence, got the best core workout! - as I watched this video also recently shared on my FB feed. I was way too embarrassed, as a pastor, to share it to friends on that platform. However, knowing the Comic Lens is a safe space to share anything, here it is for your viewing enjoyment! And don't forget to breathe :) !!)
So, the task of the “humorist” is, bottom (as it were) line, to thumb his/her nose at stifling decorum and boldly, proudly, and cleverly proclaim in ways both big and small life’s very dirty, very human predicaments. This gives us all a chance to acknowledge, with laughter’s liberating joy, the fact that each of us, no matter how important and evolved we may or may not otherwise be, are earth, and to earth we will return.
And isn’t that the ultimate meaning of “Butt Dust”? And for many a theologically appropriate reason??
While the Comic Lens does NOT advocate you giggle uncontrollably as your pastor/priest smudges your forehead today (if you are participating in corporate Ash Wednesday worship and, especially, if your pastor/priest has not included in his/her homily any jokes or, at the very least, ironic observations), we DO encourage you to freely explore how humor - and in its most basic expressions - can inform your Lenten journey, especially this year. After all, and if nothing else, a good and earthy belly-laugh you can't help but want to share with others is one of the best ways to lift one out of the angry darkness that often leads to truly sinful thoughts and behaviors....
And, besides, what does this year's Lenten journey lead to? APRIL FOOLS!!!!