It should be no secret that when I decided to start observing Lent, I came into this completely ignorant. I honestly can’t remember what, if any, particulars were discussed about Lent in the Sunday school classes I took when I was a child, part of the Methodist church. According to my research, both regarding Catholic observations of Lent and other Christian cultures’ observations of Lent, I’ve come to learn that Methodist observations aren’t the same as Catholic ones, but there are similarities. According to Lent 101 from a Methodist perspective, there are sacrifices to be had in the act of giving something or some things up, allegedly ashes are placed upon the forehead on Ash Wednesday, there are fasts, there are Friday dinners held for parishioners, there are services provided to the needy, and they pray. According to everything in that 101, there really isn’t a large difference.
But I don’t remember much of church from my childhood. I don’t know if it’s because I went only for a few years to this church before deciding I didn’t believe and not paying any attention whatsoever to what was going on around me. Or, maybe I just didn’t have it stick. There’s quite some ceremony to even Sunday services, never mind major services like Lent and Christmas, in the Methodist church but maybe it was ceremonial enough to make a lasting impression. This, I think, is why I can say, confidently, that I know shit about Lent. From a Catholic perspective, I knew even less.
According to the Lent FAQ I’ve been reading, there are certain rites that happen during the Lenten season. Those rites are known as “The Scrutinies.” According to that page, “These ritual celebrations on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent are communal prayers celebrated around the elect to strengthen them to overcome the power of sin in their lives and to grow in virtue.” (The elect, or the catechumens, are people have not yet been initiated into the church.) However, these ritual celebrations aren’t merely to pray for the elect to overcome the power of sin. As the FAQ states, “There is a danger in celebrating the Scrutinies if the community thinks of the elect as the only sinners in our midst who need conversion. All of us are called to continuing conversion throughout our lives, so we join with the elect in scrutinizing our own lives and praying to God for the grace to overcome the power of sin that still infects our hearts.” In essence, these celebrative rites aren’t simply to pray on behalf of others, but also pray on behalf of the parishioners as well because fighting against sin and living by the grace of God is a consummate battle, or so it seems.
Sin is rife and people become infested with sin. Lenten season is, also, about removing that sin and recommitting to the original conversion to Catholicism.
This thing about sin is very strange to me. I’ve always had a difficult time understanding it. Sin, if I’m reading this correctly, is a constant battle waged, usually within the heart of the parishioners. According to the Vatican, sin is “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.’ Sin is an offense against God: ‘against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.’ Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’ In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.”
So, what kind of sins are committed that one may need to scrutinize their lives and get back to God? The Vatican went on to educate me, “There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. The Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: ‘Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.'” Further: “Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.’ But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.”
Well, it kind of seems like anything can be a sin. If I recall correctly, the opening statement when a Catholic goes to confession should be something like, “Forgive me, Father, fore I have sinned…” And then they discuss how long it had been since their last confession. Well, if not talking about one’s sins with their spiritual adviser is a sin, then that kind of leaves whole vistas of possibilities as to what sins are? There’s no specific definition really about what could constitute a sin. Someone makes a decision about what a sin is, either on their own or through interpretations of theological thought, and so therefore, it is a sin. People say that being a homosexual is a sin because of a passage in the Old Testament. But the problem I have now is that, didn’t Jesus’s death technically negate all of that? His death led the way to the Kingdom of Heaven and forgave us of our sins… as long as we live our lives in obedience of Jesus.
But how do you do that? What is the obedience that Jesus gave, right? According to the Vatican, “‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.’ By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who ‘makes himself an offering for sin’, when ‘he bore the sin of many’, and who ‘shall make many to be accounted righteous’, for ‘he shall bear their iniquities’. Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.” So, if I’m reading this correctly, as long as we follow the Lamb of God, then we’re A-Okay. But in the Catholic Church, they acknowledge that people slip, people have crises of faith, people get stuck and muddled in the physical instead of the spiritual, and so you can go to confession and say some prayers that the priest tells you to say in order to atone of those sins.
But during the Lenten season, you can do all of that and partake (even silently) in the Scrutinies in order to combat whatever sins may be infesting the heart.
To an extent, this makes sense to me. I understand things that can manifest in one’s heart. Part of the Kemetic belief is that we must live within ma’at or our hearts will be infested with isfet. If isfet over takes our hearts, then when we enter our own form of judgment in the Duat, then we will be found wanting. Our hearts will outweigh the feather of Ma’at that it is weighed against and Ammut will eat the heart. According to the scholars, Ammut will eat the heart of those found unworthy and those souls will cease to exist. (This particular aspect of the ceremony – found to be wanting and the soul’s destruction by Ammut – are never shown, so this is guesswork. The thing is that it makes perfect sense that such scenes would not be shown since the imagery and writing of ancient Egypt were all tied in to heka. By depicting such a scene, one was giving it power enough to occur. By not depicting it, the ancient Egyptians were negating that power and forcing only good outcomes.) Another theory, at least as far as discussions with my Kemetic friends have come along, is that the soul doesn’t cease to exist but that they become muuet, or the unjustified dead. (Justified is the name given to those souls who have passed through the Duat and the ceremony successfully.)
In a way, I understand the need for scrutiny. I understand the need for praying against the sins of the heart, against the sins that can crop up. But I also don’t.
In Kemeticism, isfet is the only sin. Isfet is uncontrolled chaos. As Sard defined it, “Isfet is pure and total entropy, representative of the Void, and is the driving force behind wanton destruction and purposeless disorder which undermine the Ordered Creation of the Gods.” In ancient Egyptian belief, isfet and ma’at created a balance within one another, however it would appear that isfet was more powerful than ma’at. Ma’at needed constant defenders, usually in the form of pharaoh and the gods, to achieve the goal of maintaining ma’at whilst isfet was everywhere, always seeking for a single rip in the cosmic fabric of time and space to unmake the world and cast our reality back into the void from whence it came. We don’t have pharaohs any longer who can actively achieve ma’at, can maintain ma’at. Now, all we have are the diaspora recreation of people who have fallen to the path of Kemeticism and attempt to maintain ma’at in whatever ways they can. No overwrought ceremonies to achieve the course of the sun through the day time sky or formal words spoken to aid on its journey through the Duat each evening. No wars against foreigners, themselves the embodiment of isfet, in an attempt to reign ma’at upon their unrighteous heads. No such things exist anymore – just the solitary moments in which men and women and children of this faith attempt to maintain ma’at in their own ways.
In Christian religions, there are many more sins than all of that. There are physical sins. There are spiritual spins. I suppose there are also emotional and mental sins. None of that exists in Kemeticism. The religion was not orthodoxic the way Christian religions tend to be. The ancient Egyptians didn’t even care if you truly believed in their gods. Their religion was orthopraxic and so all that they needed you to do, in order to become like them, was to merely maintain ma’at, was to fight against the enemies of ma’at with your actions, and that was all one needed to do. There were no moments of intense prayer for one’s ability to overcome the power of sin, either by others or by themselves. There was simply the moments one took to maintain ma’at and everything else would be dealt with when the time came – in the Weighing of the Heart chamber deep within the Duat.
Even though sin is not quite defined the same within a Kemetic structure that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that I can’t take time to scrutinize my life in an effort to overcome the power of isfet. It doesn’t mean that I can’t take a few days out of the Lenten season to see if I am full of isfet even if I believe that I am full of ma’at. I have taken the time and I think that I am still walking the path of ma’at. Even with such thoughts as doubt and fear, which are almost daily reminders that I have no idea what I’m doing and perhaps, just maybe, everything is a made up story in my head – the gods, the path I walk, and the belief of what they want from me. Even with a constant inward battle regarding my faith in the gods and, more specifically, the ongoing work I have been doing for Sekhmet, I am still walking hand-in-hand with ma’at. I am fairly certain that my heart will not be found wanting and Ammut will not destroy me.*
* I would say that I am 80% sure. I do, as mentioned, still and always deal with doubt about everything. And remember, doubt may be a sin in Christian religions, but it is not one in mine.
But on the heels of scrutinizing my path and finding that, all things considered, I seem to be doing okay that doesn’t mean I can’t scrutinize in other areas. I have found that I am less angry than I originally was after the initiation process and more resigned, tired, and full of doubt. I have also found that I have become more easily susceptible to words from other people, not usually specifically regarding my faith but still promoting doubt about others’ belief systems, which cause yet more doubt. This in turn, leads to an anxiety attack the likes of which I cannot break out of, which finally leads to the ever lovely (and by lovely, I mean fucking shitty) shame-spiral that follows. I’ve been quiet, partially, because my own scrutiny has found holes within the aqueduct of my faith and I am trying to damn those holes with fingers instead of mortar and stone. I have also been quiet because, frankly, it’s incredibly fucking difficult to discuss how much pain I am in while I scrutinize my life, my path, and my thought processes therein only to find that my anxiety has trebled in the last three months and everything, whether religious or otherwise, is likely to set me off on an anxiety attack.
Quite. Fucking. Lovely.
I have scrutinized myself and found myself, well, I found myself wanting.
There is no prayer hear in which I can confirm my faith and re-confirm my devotion. I can ask for heka, or possibly do some of my own. But I tend to find it less than likely to succeed if I am doing heka on behalf of myself when doubt is at its core. Since, of course, if I do heka to remove my doubts and remove my anxiety, I am going to end up doubting that the heka I am doing will be successful. And it’s all just a sort of muddled mess where I end up moody and bitchy and on the verge of almost-tears. So, instead, I read books that are not religious and I shy away from the face in the mirror.
I have scrutinized myself and found myself wanting.
It is easier now simply to admit that I doubt, that I am anxious, and that things are fifteen days away from ending.
It is simply easier to deny myself diet Coke and to deny myself religion in a better effort to get in touch with the quivering soul beneath my breast.
It is just easier to ignore it all after coming to these conclusions and losing myself in a work of fiction.
I have scrutinized myself and found myself wanting.