Growing up in the conservative Holiness movement, I did not know what Ash Wednesday was. Except...something Catholic and meaningless.
My first year in college preparing for ministry in the same church I encountered Ash Wednesday in Allentown, PA where A LOT of people walked around all day with charcoal-grey crosses smudged on their foreheads.
Then I became aware of my spiritual heritage in the Holiness / Methodist / Episcopal / Catholic branch of the Christian family. The subjective, emotional understanding of the Faith I had experienced as a child left me longing for a firmer foundation on which to build my life. I found it in this historic connection to the Church at large.
I need a day like Ash Wednesday. If there wasn't such a day, someone would soon start it. I need a time to be reminded of my mortality and immorality. I need to pause and realize that I and everything I know will someday all be dust in the wind.
I still don't wear the ashen cross upon my forehead and I think it is my own need to keep my faith below the surface.