Lent Day 7: Kathleen Norris

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Each day of Lent (minus Sundays) we'll bring you words of wisdom from spiritual guides.

7. Kathleen Norris: A new/old slant on sin
For years I let the word sin slide by without fully engaging my consciousness, or my conscience. I thought of sin as a list of don'ts and should-have-dones, and if I hadn't committed (or omitted) certain acts, sin was not a problem. It was only when I encountered the wisdom of the early church, specifically the theology of sin that developed among desert monastics, that I gained an understanding of sin that is particularly useful to me during Lent.

The harsh conditions of desert life minimized worldly distractions, but the monks found their internal distractions magnified. And as they noted the disruptive emotions that assaulted them as they attempted to pray and contemplate scripture, they discerned eight "bad thoughts" that gradually evolved into what we know as the Seven Deadly Sins. These "thoughts" are not acts, but temptations that I, like every other human being, must contend with. There is no letting myself off the hook.

The psychology is ancient but sound; as I recognize a temptation to sloth or envy for what it is, as I haul it out of the depths into the light of day, I weaken it and allow for the possibility of transformation, or what Saint Benedict termed "conversion of life." This, it seems to me, is the basic work of the Christian: to admit to my most basic temptations to do evil, and resist them. And as I do so, I free the virtues to act on me. My sloth might convert into zeal, my envy into gratitude. This is the discipline--and the joy--of Lent.

Norris is a Protestant author who wrote about her experiences in a Catholic monastery in The Cloister Walk (Riverhead).

Find spiritual advice for Lent from other guides in 40 days to a new you.