First off, apologetics means never having to say you’re sorry. (Let’s skip the etymology part.) Rather, I’m explaining my take on Lent and the long-standing concept of the Seven Deadly Sins.
For everybody lacking a serious character disorder, we all know that there are things about ourselves that we admit could use some tweaking–we are not always the best people we can be. Therefore, hear a huge Your Mileage May Vary, and if you’re able to do a little cultural translation, read on.
Being an exasperated Episcopalian, I’ve observed that a lot of people are assholes about Lent; it’s the single thing most mocked about Christianity. It’s fun to pick on Christians, because everybody knows that we’re evil, gullible, and stupid. Whatever. It’s easy and gratifying to lump people together into one group and demonize them. But the concept of Lent–and sin– is useful for most people, believers or not.
By now, everybody knows that Lent is the time when Christians “give something up:” meat, chocolate, masturbation, fanfic, whatever. For forty days; and if it’s not going to be a challenge, just don’t. Many of the people who “give something up” just pick a random thing, and think no more about it. Well, no.
This process is known as a Lenten discipline, a scary word reminding us of parents, teachers, diet coaches, and Nobodaddy. Yet, true discipline is centrally a concentration on what we need and a commitment to keep that responsibility. And in Lent, we set aside a time specifically to examine who we are, what we do, and the differences between the two.
What many now recommend as a discipline is not to give something up, but to take something on: the good old fallback of volunteering; being kinder to people; assuming a responsibility. I’ve tried that approach, but it wasn’t . . . well . . . it wasn’t Lent. It felt like I was cheating, and as I’ve sort of sloped off at about Day 10 for every Lent of my life, I already felt that way. Guilt and shame are undervalued, as they often keep us from misbehaving, but in this case they really do just get in the way: Boo hoo, I’m so weak; this is so stupid; aren’t I working hard to defeat the purpose here?
So what I’ve done this year is to do both. And I’ve fallen into the usual Don Quixote trap: I decided to take up prayer/meditation for 30 minutes a day—and to give up (or work on) a Sin. Hmmm . . . well, what do I mean by that?
The easiest and most basic definition of sin that I know is: Sin is that which sends us away from God. (Your Higher Power. Your best sense of self. Whatever. Get yourself a big #10 can of atheistic/agnostic/term quibbling-get-over-it. You know what I mean here. Translation stops now.) And although there are many, many things which send us away from that, the Seven Deadly Sins provide a useful structure for understanding how it works.
The Seven Deadly Sins:
- Avarice (Greed)
There are other and older lists; but these are currently the most commonly agreed upon, having folded a couple of concepts into each other. They are deeper concepts than they first appear, and every one has what I call a “skate:” For some of them, you will fluff your feathers happily and say, “Well, I don’t have an issue with that!” M’kay . . . here’s an exercise, which I uncreatively call the Seven Deadly Sins game:
Take a little time to memorize the above list–give yourself a few little quizzes on them, so you more or less know what they are. Then (and at any future time) grab a piece of scrap paper, and scribble them down as quickly as you can. The last sin on the list is the one you need to examine in your life at the time.
And yes, for you frivolous wags, actually, the same thing works for the dwarves–but do ya notice that they also have concepts, which oddly enough can fairly easily be related to the sins: Doc=Wisdom, which was Greed for Faustus; Sleepy=Lust (hey, he likes to stay in bed…), Grumpy=Wrath, Sneezy=Bodily health–i.e. Gluttony; Bashful=Pride; Dopey=Sloth. And Happy is Envy, because face it, don’t we all envy him?
When we talk about sin, somewhere along the way we also need the concept of salvation, which is why the soberness of Lent is followed by the ecstasy of Easter; at least in terms of the Christian calendar. As a general and ongoing thing, you are better and happier when you realize that, as Zen monk Cheri Huber says, there is nothing wrong with you. Or, as the popular catchphrase says, God doesn’t make junk. Part of all that self-hatred comes from identifying Us as the Things We Do, and as alluded above, they’re different.
There is nothing wrong with us, but we need to be mindful, and observe the things that we do: Right action, kids. It comes down to that. Go, and sin no more. —-Wait, who am I kidding? Y’all are about to walk out the door back into . . . being human. Which is what Lent is all about.
And, being a human who needs to cut back on my innate identification with Don Quixote, I’ve decided to redefine my parameters for my discipline: I’m actually doing pretty well with the meditation–I’m doing a drawing exercise–but I think the thing I’m giving up is eating in bed. It’s the worst little habit I have in terms of keeping me from being better and happier. And in terms of the original high-minded (and vague) objective, it’s a winner:
I’m unhappy with with what it does to my body, and angry with myself both for doing it and being lazy about working on it. l hate feeling greedy for a completely unnecessary snack, and I envy all those who just tidily eat in the dining room. And I know I’m being defensive and avoidant when I tell myself that I deserve a treat.
And hey, who likes to have crumbs in bed?