This is an updated version of last year's Ash Wednesday post.
Today Christians all around the world will don an ash cross on their forehead in celebration of Ash Wednesday. I grew up in a Baptist church and don’t have a very liturgical or traditional background. Until a few years ago I didn’t even know what Ash Wednesday was and, even then, thought it was something only Roman Catholics celebrated. Thankfully my knowledge has grown and I’m excited because our church is having an Ash Wednesday service this year.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lent season, the 40 days leading up to Easter. Traditionally Lent has been a time for Christians to prepare their hearts for Easter by focusing on Christ and the work he wants to do in our lives. As the kickoff show to Lent, Ash Wednesday encourages Christians for focus on their own mortality and the promise of new life in Christ. The ash symbolizes that we are nothing but dust and ash, made alive because of Jesus and his work.
Focusing on our own mortality can be difficult. Thankfully, though, we can learn from the mistakes of these nerdy characters that wrestled with their own mortality.
Ra’s al Ghul
In Batman Begins Ra’s al Ghul leads the League of Shadows, a sect bent on shaping the world to match its vision. I loved Batman Begins and thought Liam Neeson made a great Ra’s al Ghul. In Batman Begins Ra’s al Ghul didn’t really wrestle with his mortality; he was prepared to die for his beliefs. In Batman: The Animated Series, though, Ra’s al Ghul was very concerned with his mortality, to the point that he would submerge himself in Lazarus Pits, naturally occurring phenomena that healed people and extended their lives. While Ra’s al Ghul conquered his mortality, the Lazarus Pits also drove him insane. Living longer: good. Living crazier longer: bad.
Another villain interested in cheating mortality was the Dark Lord Voldemort. From the time he was a student at Hogwarts, Voldemort was interested in cheating death and achieving immortality. Instead of finding naturally occurring phenomenon to extend his life, Voldemort turned to magic and horcruxes. Voldemort spread his soul across seven horcruxes, insuring his immortality as long as a single horcrux remained intact. Splitting his soul seven times may have led to immortality, but it also led to severe consequences for Voldemort. While he cheated death for many years, when he was finally killed his soul never found rest, forever caught between the living and the dead, crying in the corner like he had been nailed with a dodge ball.
It’s not only bad guys who wrestle with their mortality and want to cheat death. Sometimes the good guys want to find a way to extend their lives as well. I remember watching Doctor Who when I was younger and I have been working my way through the new Doctor Who as well. As a Time Lord, the Doctor cheats mortal wounds by regenerating, changing his appearance and personality. We’re up to 11 versions of the Doctor. The tenth Doctor is probably my favorite but I have a tremendous fondness for the fourth Doctor as well, who I would watch when I was growing up. Like comic book characters or the Simpsons, the Doctor just keeps pressing on, cheating death and adding to his 900 years of life.
Jean Grey is one of my very favorite comic book characters. She's one of the original X-Men and was one of my original crushes. Instead of pining after D.J. Tanner, I set my heart on someone who already had a thing for men named Scott. Even if things could have worked out between an 11-year-old boy and a comic book character, I would have struggled with Jean's struggle with mortality. Jean is the poster hero for comic book characters who die and return to life. When Jean first died she returned as the Phoenix, died as the Dark Phoenix, came back again from a cocoon on the bottom of the ocean and then died and entered a higher plane of existence with the Phoenix Force. Maybe Jean wouldn't mind an Ash Wednesday service since she's faced her mortality so many times.
Recognizing our mortality is a vital part to the Christian life. Without recognizing our mortality how can we fully appreciate the new life we have in Christ? Thankfully Ash Wednesday gives us an opportunity to reflect on our mortality as we prepare for Easter and the celebration of new life found in the empty tomb.
Voldemort really could have benefitted from an Ash Wednesday service.
What other nerdy characters have wrestled with their mortality?