I never thought much of Ash Wednesday before, since in my denomination the Lenten ritual of having the sign of the cross caressed into one’s forehead with symbolic ash isn’t really practiced. I’ve never thought it was heresy or anything; in fact, aside from casual conversations I may have had with friends who wore their ash crosses home from church on Ash Wednesday, I never really thought of it much at all.
Till I moved to a Muslim country, where almost immediately I noticed that many of the men in my city carried a similar symbol on their foreheads. It’s called a zabiba, and is actually a callous that can form centrally between the brow and hair line of a Muslim’s forehead, as a result of his/her diligent prayer life. This is because part of Islam’s five-times-a-day prayer practice involves touching one’s forehead to the ground.
I don’t know that I have ever seen a woman with a zabiba on her forehead, and I’m told that generally they avoid marking their brows with the prayer bumps the guys are more apt to want. In community with Muslims I quickly learned that the zabiba on the forehead of the man can be like a badge of honor, similar to how some Muslim women feel about their veils.
Certainly, there are many Muslims who work hard to acquire their zabibas, but I know from my years among them that not all the zabibas come by prayer. Yes, at times the scars are fabricated by means other than prayer, because the outward sign to some Muslims is more do-able than the prayer deed itself. And in Islam, a good intention (in this case, one’s wanting to be devout enough to earn the forehead’s callous) is a good work too, which in the end might be better than nothing at all.
Today I’m thinking about my own outward signs. I know how badly I want my life to bear witness to the loving Christ who resides within. I rely daily on Christ’s forgiveness, and sometimes I feel like the sin in me is more telling than the Jesus I mean to glorify. And that’s not the sign I want my Muslim friends to see.
I want them to see that Jesus hears the prayers I pray, even when they are not impressive or copious or much at all. I want them to know that my struggle with sin can get real, but that Jesus’ love casts away my fear of punishment, because when I ask Him to, He forgives and forgets. I want them to know the truth about His death on the cross and His resurrection and how through it all He offers me life forever with Him.
And that’s what I’m thinking about this Ash Wednesday. I want my life to reveal Jesus. I pray that they will know Him because they see Him in me.
What does Ash Wednesday mean to you today?