I hadn’t really considered the question until this morning. As part of our faith formation time with the prek- 4th graders, I showed them the ashes and a dried palm leaf. I try to do this each year to encourage them to come to the Ash Wednesday service. I want them to mark the start of the season of Lent and to recognize that it is a special time. I want them to feel fully included in the life and tradition of our church. I hope that by seeing the ashes up close they realize there is nothing to be afraid of.
This morning as I passed around the dried palm many of the children unexpectedly tore off a tiny piece, which they examined as I opened the ash container. The circle shrank as they moved in for a closer look at the shiny silver container filled with black ashes– and then asked to smell them! Still surprised, I held them out. I heard a few words of description like “burnt” and “dark.” Last year my daughter thought they smelled like burnt popcorn – perhaps it is the oil? I am once again reminded that children experience life, including church life, with all of their senses. I enjoyed seeing the ashes through their eyes; ordinary ashes became interesting and amazing. Thanks be to God for the wonder of it all!
Each year I send out an Ash Wednesday invitation to parents with children. I reference two great blog posts that do a beautiful job of helping adults explain the symbolism at the beginning of Lent. Both can be found on this previous Ash Wednesday post.