Today is Ash Wednesday. We had services tonight at church. I imposed ashes on those who had gathered to worship. About halfway through the crowd there was my almost-four-year-old baby boy in front of me...waiting, both eager and curious about what I was going to do.
I touched my thumb to the ashes, then to his forehead. As I made the sign of the cross I said, "I mark you with God's claim" (I don't know what others say, but this seemed right for tonight).
After marking him with ashes, I was about to stand for the next person.
But he wasn't done.
He reached out his little pointer finger to touch the ashes. I first thought he just wanted to play and began to pull the dish back. He then pointed to my forehead. "You don't have any," he said. And he was right.
I put the dish back where he could reach and watched as he stuck his little finger in and then touched it to my forehead before getting a confused look.
There was a problem. "It didn't stick," he said.
But this boy knows how to solve problems. Reaching back toward the dish, he dug in with thumb and finger, gathering as much of the ashes as he could and lifting them gently to my head. I watched as ashes cascaded down my forehead and across my nose and cheeks. I held my lips together, not sure I wanted to taste the ashes. Then he repeated...after all, it is the sign of the cross we traditionally mark each other with and the cross has two beams. Another pile of ashes to my forehead and the crossbeam was in place.
He walked away satisfied.
I stood there, ashes thick on my forehead, scattered across my face, even around my feet. It was a messy imposition for sure, but one I will never forget.