A butcher friend of mine on Ninth Street said hello today, and I couldn’t help but notice the thin black cross on his forehead. I realized this was the first day of Lent and the cross was ash rubbed into his skin by a priest. “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” Such a neatly drawn cross. Back in the day, the priests used to do much sloppier work, unsightly smudges that bore no resemblance to crosses.
Then I thought of the Christian custom of giving up something pleasurable for Lent, a tradition that honors Jesus’ 40 days and nights of fasting in the desert. And I remembered why, even as a good Catholic boy, I thought there was something morbid about Christianity’s insistence on self-denial and the pursuit of suffering, as if life doesn’t already hand us all the suffering we can handle, and often more.
Listen to Muddy Waters’ music. It’s clear he knew most people don’t have to “give something up” to understand what suffering is. Look at his face. Can a priest teach you more than Muddy can? Not unless you’re tone-deaf and blind.
Footnote: Little Walter makes the lowly harmonica sound as powerful as a pipe organ in a cathedral.