It is a tradition, to those followers of a Catholic, perhaps even a christian faith to smudge themselves with the burnt palms blessed the year before in celebration of Palm Sunday, as a sign of the sadness and solemnity of the season of lent.
Lent, for the unindoctrinated, is a period of time during which good christians are supposed to "give something up" as a reminder to themselves of the great sacrifices Jesus made in ensuring the potential of eternal salvation for the dearly departed.
The line between routine and ritual has always amazed me. I mean, some people have lucky rabbits feet, which they won't place a bet without rubbing first. This is not routine, because they will not bet without the foot. Routine is something like a toothbrush, or toothpaste. There is no deeper significance in the act which would prevent one, generally speaking, from brushing teeth with any old toothbrush or toothpaste (Assuming the teeth needed it, and the brush was moderately vouch-for-able). I personally have used my fingers with some toothpaste in times of need. There is no depth in the act.
This leaves me wondering where rituals have a place in my life. I surely believe in the extra worldly, but simply as an area of existence we are unable to interact with any solid results on a regular basis. I do not believe in a god, or many gods. I do not believe in souls.
To whom should my traditions be bestowed upon?
I have some things to lean back on... traditions of the blood (my name for instance), the history of family which cites certain patterns which have been preserved over centuries. Meaningful perhaps, but in a very limiting way. The universality of traditions is what lends them strength. The fact that all these sourpusses walking around with smudgy foreheads, itching at the oil in the ash choking their pores, can call upon a greater unity in the act to give each other strength.
Perhaps this is an aspect of being an atheist I had never considered before.
As a social animal, humans strive to seek harmony or discord with their local population. It seems to me that aside from consumerism, these rituals hold the strongest ties to simply attained harmony. Perhaps I am too discordant for such trite connections.
I have often thought back on an argument my father and I, as well as an ex-girlfriend and I had. It had to do with the rearing of children, in regards to religion. I believe it possible to teach a right path to someone without delving into religious claptrap. It is, in my humble opinion, much easier to teach rights and wrongs, as they occur in the real world, as opposed to the hypocritical manner which religion usually presents them in. Black and white, even in the resoundingly simple tenets of a faith like the Rede of the Buddhist beliefs, is a necessity needed for those ideals to hold true.
The rituals that they depend upon as a pillar of unification for their respective faith is dependent on that black and white. The visual and physical aspects of the rituals of Ash Wednesday, and lent are meaningless if there is any "maybe" about who Jesus was, or what his death accomplished. The nullification of the resurrection does not necessarily invalidate all of Christian teachings and values, but it certainly knocks them down a peg.
How odd would it be for us to see the traditions of our ancestors, passed through the blood for generations before words were written. Their grasp of the supernatural was so much stronger, so much more raw than what we have today. We would probably gape or scowl in much the same manner I see some people reacting to the ash-heads wandering around the hospital today.
Long gone are the days where each one had some sort of spiritual significance. The TGIF generation would probably never survive in such a time, where each day was worthy of its own contemplation.
I do not, as one of my favorite authors put it, feel like too little butter spread over too much bread. I feel like a hapless typesetter, stuck in a machine with too many words to print, with enough ink and time, but not enough paper. The machine rushes on as the paper flies away into the bowels of the machine.
I long for an Armageddon. Humans have grown soft. We need to fear the thunder, and band together for survival, not argue over the spoils of our contrived plutocracies.
We need ritual in the day-to-day, that is meaningful in real way, not in a way that links to some event that may or may not have passed two millennia ago.
I fear having to raise children in a world where I have to explain all this to them.