I like gloomy weather, and I like gloomy liturgical seasons, so I always get a little excited when Lent starts, even if that's completely the inappropriate attitude. Ash Wednesday takes us into a period of suffering and penance. For 40 days, we look in at ourselves and see the reason why we need a Savior. Ash Wednesday particularly reminds us of our sinfulness and our mortality. We fancy ourselves superior to every other creature on earth, just we’re just creatures too. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. With the short life we’re given, we do some pretty awful things to one another. So today we fast and burn palm leaves and rub ashes on our foreheads. Wearing ashes is an old expression of sorrow. Many times in the Old Testament people wear sackcloth and roll in the ashes. (I’m glad we’ve gotten rid of the sackcloth part.)
I think it’s healthy that the Church has sorrowful days. Religion should be about Truth and relationship, not emotions. A religion can’t always ride on happy, feel-good emotions or angry, hell-fearing threats. Some days are hopeful, full of the beatific vision. Some days are hurtful, with the weight of sin pressing down. Some days are apathetic, where I don’t particularly feel close to God but I certainly don’t feel abandoned. Some days are bright with the goodness of humanity. Some days are dark with the evil of humanity. It would be disingenuous to pretend that religion always provides a sunny outlook.
But the best part of Ash Wednesday is that in 46 days, we see that our sinfulness and mortality has been washed away. We are healed, made clean, and given life. God does not forsake us but forgives. Today is just one part of the story, and the ending is ultimately a happy one. So maybe it's not so inappropriate to feel excited for these gloomy days after all.