Experienced beekeepers have found that occasional, regular exposure to their bee's stings is important. For many, this small exposure builds immunity to extreme reactions. Swelling, itching and pain is often less extreme for those who have such immunity.
Ash Wednesday might be like this: a tiny, painful exposure to the sting of death. The imposition of ashes, taken from last year's palm Sunday branches now burned, is a difficult symbol to receive. In congregational silence, each hears pronounced over them, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Heaviest of all is offering your child to the pastor, for the same imposition and pronouncement. Death is so very, very heavy.
Lent is upon us, our season of waiting, preparing, repenting, listening. Seven weeks of shadow fall, each week drawing closer to the darkest day. We know the brightest light bursts forth on Easter morn, but not before the darkest dark.