"But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
As I was praying before Ash Wednesday mass yesterday, before I even realized the contents of the Gospel reading, I was thinking about shame and why we sometimes hide our faith. I've been reading a lot about vulnerability and whole-hearted living, a focus of the work of storyteller and researcher Brene Brown (more about her work later), I was thinking about shame in response to the things we keep private about our faith. There is a difference, I believe, between keeping our prayer, fasting and alms giving secret in order to be humble and not boastful, and keeping our faith private because we are scared of societies judgement.
Sometimes we hide our ashes, wipe them off so we don't get stranger stares at work or while walking across campus. I often fear the judgement of society or worry about what someone may say to me, whether it be a mere question I just don't know the answer to or an accusation I have to refute and stand-up against. We all fear the unknown and the exposure of our souls when we wear a mark upon our head. Maybe we feel ashamed, shamed by the judgement of society, shamed by not knowing or understanding fully what we participate in or shame for standing out in a way that is countercultural to society. I know that sometimes I rather just not deal with the questions; I'd rather be left alone and remain anonymous.
Why is that? We do we (and I mean me) hid our keep concealed an area of our lives that we should graciously share with the world instead of hiding. Do we feel unguarded and vulnerable when we expose that side of ourselves because what society may judge or shame God rejoices in? How do we lean in to the vulnerability, wear our faith like a badge of honor instead of a scarlet A, regardless of how society views it.
I find it easier in the bubble, easier within the space of like-minded people like at my Catholic student center in undergraduate or in my Catholic school while teaching. It becomes more challenging as we step further into society, but it remain important, if not more than in our bubble, to bear our faith around those who may not share in it. How do we take more ownership of our faith and live our faith publically, not to be boastful as the Gospel speaks of, but to also not be ashamed or scared of what society thinks? This has been on my mind a lot recently, as I work in a field with many diverse settings and individuals. I found my self shying away from mentioning going to church on the weekend when someone asks how my weekend was, or shying away from controversial topics as to not stir the pot.
I'm challenging myself this Lent to not shy away or not hide my faith. I want to keep the Gospel reading in mind, to not be boastful and use my faith to fuel pride, but I also don't want to be ashamed to admit that I spent my evening in Bible study, and welcome any questions that may come. This scares me, because there is a potential for social isolation for not fitting into a norm, but I think it will help me to be a clearer and truer version of myself. I went to night mass, so I didn't have my ashes on for very long, but I'm going to try, and I encourage you as well, to keep your "ashes" visible this Lent.