Day 36: Ash Wednesday

posted by Mike on February 25th, 2009

Many of this week’s participants in the 100 Days Campaign to Close Guantanamo and End Torture are Catholics, so Ash Wednesday is an important day.

We wanted to connect the practice of our 100 Days vigil to our Lenten practice, so after visiting the White House sidewalk we processed to St. Matthew’s Cathedral and held a vigil during the transition between masses.

As our text we chose a line from Friday’s first reading:

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke
(Isaiah 58:6)

A vigil like this can easily come across as a protest against the church or the churchgoers, and indeed we’ve already received one angry, eloquent e-mail from someone who understood our message and is sympathetic to the cause, but didn’t like the vigil one bit.

This is the second Ash Wednesday in a row I spent holding a sign outside a cathedral. Last year’s event in Worcester probably annoyed some people, but we had many positive comments, and as we continued the fast each day after the noon mass we were supported by churchgoers and celebrants alike. But that vigil wasn’t theatrical, and was of our home cathedral. The Guantanamo vigil, on the other hand, is pretty stunning, and most of the people at today’s event are out-of-towners, just guessing at how best to get the message across.

Maybe a public vigil isn’t the right way to connect the activities of a small group with the larger Lenten observance. For now, I’m taking consolation in the fact that I’ve had misgivings about several of the 100 Days vigils, all of which turned out positive and produced all sorts of good and unexpected things. So maybe something amazing will come out of today’s vigil, too.

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