There is a word heard more often in churches in the season of Lent than in the rest of the year: sin. It's in the prayers, it's in the sermons, it's in the hymns, and it's an uncomfortable, squirm-in-your-seat word. It makes me think of the scene in Evelyn Waugh's novel, Brideshead Revisited, when Julia (Catholic, and married), says to Charles, with whom she is having an affair:
Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night…. 'Poor Julia,' they say, 'she can't go out. She's got to take care of her little sin. A pity it ever lived,' they say, 'but it's so strong.'
It's like picking at a wound, like holding on to a viper. It hurts, but still one can't let go. "Oh Lord," prayed Augustine, "make me chaste, but not yet."
Your spiritual tradition may use different language, but we all have some term that means "messing up in a big way". The Greeks had a word for it: hamartia (ἁμαρτία),which is borrowed, I have been told, from archery. It means "missing the mark". That is the term Paul used when he wrote, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".
When I take my eye off the ball, I miss it. When my mind wanders from the bullseye, so does my shot. Oh boy, do I know it! Time after time, I pick up my bow, aim at the target, and then, between my intention and my action, or as T.S. Eliot wrote, between the idea and the reality / Between the motion and the act, falls the Shadow… or the bright distracting thing. My mind says "ooh, sparkly!". My arrow of desire wobbles and goes off-course. I hit neither target nor distraction; even worse, that arrow may injure some innocent thing that was in the way of my careening.
I want to learn how to draw the bow, and be still in my mind and, keeping my eyes on the target, hit the mark. "Purity of mind," said Kierkegaard, "is to will one thing". There is work to do here; sometimes the best I can do is to will one thing at a time.
And that's my Lent so far.