Reflection: Simply put, the shallow experience of average modern evangelicalism has lost the effective power of the cross and, what is gravely worse, God's Spirit of holiness which moves throughout the world. We are quick to say that the worst sin is grieving the Holy Spirit, but are also so certain of our own place within our religious constructs that we continuously fail to yield to his presence and calling. We think that our lives demonstrate vigorous devotion to God, at the same time that we refuse to stomach the thought that our lives are reduced to a small pile of ashes when we meet up with the true and passionate fire of his presence. Lent is both the meditation of the absence of God in our lives and a surrendering to his flame. As a certain preacher once stated, the flames of heaven are certainly hotter than the flames of hell.
This is why we smear ashes on our foreheads. Because it is easier for us now to acknowledge and confess, turn and repent and live out our days in total abandon to the grace of God than it is to rest in a temporal comfortability that is not presently satisfying nor eternally saving. But the ashes are not magical, nor are the petitions and prayers and priests who participate. If there is no rending of the heart then it is a silly notion of smudging black dirt on our faces, and the life we seek will simply wash away with a simple visit to the sink.