Lent & The Greatest Love Of All
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
— from ‘The Greatest Love of All’ (Creed/Masser)
In the spring of 2004, I went to a press screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, two days before Ash Wednesday. The film tore me to bits. I went to Ash Wednesday services at my local Catholic parish (I was Catholic then) ready to don sackcloth and ashes and repent. The priest’s homily that day centered on how Lent was really a time for us to learn to love ourselves more.
After that, I knew that this priest had nothing useful to teach any of us about the spiritual life. It was about nothing more than coddling the bourgeoisie.
I thought about that moment when a friend yesterday sent me a link to Glitter + Ash. It’s a movement to encourage churches and penitents (“penitents”) to smear glitter on foreheads instead of the traditional grey ash. Here’s why:
Glitter is an inextricable element of queer history. It is how we have displayed our gritty, scandalous hope. We make ourselves fabulously conspicuous, giving offense to the arbiters of respectability that allow coercive power to flourish.
Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a season of repentance. During Lent, Christians look inward and take account in order to move forward with greater health. At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.
Glitter+Ash exquisitely captures the relationship between death and new life. We do not live in fear of ash – of death – we place it on our foreheads for the world to see. We know that fear will rise, cramping our hearts. We also know that God specifically calls us not to project that fear onto the Other, the alien, the stranger in our midst. God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another. This Ash Wednesday, we will make that spark easier to see. We will stand witness to the gritty, glittery, scandalous hope that exists in the very marrow of our tradition.
What a complete trivialization of the sacred, an emptying-out of holy tradition to serve the Almighty Self and its sexual desire. Not even Lent is free from LGBT cultural politics. It’s all about them, all the time.