It’s a few days late, but if you were around 24th and Mission on Wednesday evening, you might have wondered just what was going on. I snagged this write-up from a church listserv and got the permission of the author, journalist Deb Tullmann, to repost it.
“Hey, did you know today is Ash Wednesday?” a hipster spoke into his phone as 15 black cassocks passed him on 24th Street a block from the Bart station. We joined three Brazilian drummers, censed a makeshift altar, and read and prayed. People poured out of the station. Some stopped to take pictures and videos from their phones, some tried to redirect the crowd’s attention, and then gradually (who did it first?) the moment of realization, or curiosity or something… Then people began to come forward. How many? It’s hard to say. People stopped, stood on the fringes of the service, a circle formed. The kids couldn’t keep their eyes off the thuribles’ arc.
Sara Miles came over. “Want to come with me to Mission Pie and Dianda’s?” We walked through litter and chaos and people knew what we were up to. Words seemed unnecessary in this moment of intense presence, when the fingers touch the temple and time stops over and over and over. A man ran up to Sara and said something in Spanish as she smiled and gave him his ashes. He bolted back to his car (temporarily abandoned in the right lane, horns around him blaring), hopped back in and drove away. Dianda’s bakery wanted ashes too; I half laughed and half cried as Sara reached around the huge cake in one woman’s arms as she stretched her head closer and closer. Babies, thugs, teenagers, businessmen, it went on and on. I’ve been thinking. About what it felt like to swing a thurible in front of trash cans and storefronts. About secular and sacred practices of Lent and how the two bleed into each other. About something Sara said on our way back to the station: “I think people might want a lot more church than we give them.”