Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Reconciling the world....."

Recently,  Archbishop Justin told a group of church leaders how much he valued the practice of Sacramental Confession...and I have to say that I agree with him wholeheartedly! But the conversations that arose when I linked to his words on Facebook brought home to me once again just how unfamiliar this sacrament is within the Anglican I've been pondering ever since and have realised that for liberal Christians like me, it may seem almost a contradiction in terms to be advocating it at all. A face to face chat with a parishioner who was full of questions helped me to clarify my own thinking and just why I am so grateful that in the Church of England though "none must, all may and some should" receive this sacrament.

You see, we do rather struggle with the concept of "sin" in my church. In preaching and in conversation I tend to talk about "brokenness", "failure",  "disappointing ourselves and God" "hurting God and the people God loves" - but I steer clear of the language of "sin". Generally, I think I'm right in this. We have alot of lee-way to make up after generations of preachers offered so much by way of the fear of God that people were (and are) apt to forget that God both loves AND likes them. Also I'm not sure that it really helps those who are tentatively exploring faith if the first thing they are invited to do when they first arrive at an act of worship is to dwell on their utter unworthiness...While beginning the Eucharist with an act of confession may seem as natural as washing before a meal to some, others feel quite definitely "got at" - and not by God but by an institution that they rightly recognise has its own fair share of confessing to do. 

So - while I value the role of a weekly general confession within public worship, I'm not much given to laying stress on how much we need it as individual sinners. 
Then, of course, the rhythm of the service is such that it's quite hard to enter into deep and specific self-examination...We may manage to apologise in our hearts for the time we were exasperated with a colleague, or moaned to a friend about a mutual acquaintance...but we rarely have the time to think about what it is in us, those deep habits of thought or behaviour, which have driven us in our bad behaviour. So we join in the general confession, receive non-specific absolution - and move on to celebrate as God's forgiven children.

That's fine. I'm not in any way suggesting that the corporate confession and absolution are not effective - simply that in my own experience there are things that I do again and again which have their roots in parts of myself that I really do need to spend time reflecting on, places where I am acutely aware of my need for God's grace.
And for me, that's where the Sacrament of Reconciliation comes in.

I've blogged about it before ...the way that grubbling about in the depths of my soul makes me all too aware of the things I hoped I'd buried forever...the sheer misery of having to articulate painful truths about myself when they are such a far cry from the person I long to be. I can honestly say that when I'm engaged in the process of confession, the shame that I feel is 100% provoked by the sins - that I have been content with so much that is a distortion of my best self, the person Christ calls me to be...It has nothing to do with what my confessor may think of me - because, once the rite has begun, I'm almost unaware of them. This is me, taking a long hard look at myself and admitting to God those things that God already knows all about....

When I've looked those unpleasant truths in the face with as much courage as I can muster, - then it DOES matter that there is another person there - for while the actual process of confessing is about me and God alone, it is hugely helpful to receive the thoughts, wisdom and compassion of another human being - a priest speaking with the authority of the Church but with their own experiences of being a fallible human being to shape their words. There have been times when I have been quite resistant to making my confession to the particular priest "on offer" that day - but always, EVERY SINGLE TIME, they have said exactly what I most needed to hear - and those nuggets of wisdom have stayed with me long after the sins I'd confessed have sunk without trace.

And, of course, that's the really wonderful thing.
Having shared those things which are so hard to acknowledge, harder still to deal with - I not only receive help with reshaping my life so that their influence is no longer strong - but I ALSO hear words of forgiveness spoken directly to me - ME...absolution for all that STUFF and "those other sins I cannot now remember".
God has looked at the whole of me, has helped me (as the psalmist put it)  to understand my errors and now cleanses me from my secret faults..
God looks at me just as I and accepts, loves and forgives me.

Regardless of the words I am given to reflect on, or whatever process of penance is suggested to help me to rest on God's forgiveness, I always leave confession with my confidence renewed that nothing 
"Not death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,...."
- not even my own willful determination that "I'm not really that loveable, honestly God, if you knew me..." NOTHING 
will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Small wonder that I feel as if all my Christmasses and birthdays, all the spring mornings of childhood and the most joyful awakenings of life have come together.
Reconciliation is a wonderful thing!

1 comment:

UKViewer said...

Couldn't agree more. Having been a Catholic the concept of confession was ingrained, but in the context of being able to do whatever you liked, pop into confession, get absolution and go on as before. In other words a way of assuaging your conscience, but not valid as their was no real intention or determination to mend your ways.

When I became an Anglican, the concept of General Confession being 'sufficient' gave me some peace, but eventually, during the discernment process and spiritual direction I came to realise that it wasn't 'sufficient' enough. And made inquires and my SD was able to provide the opportunity for Sacramental Confession, the process was much more challenging than any Catholic confession, because I was given time to reflect, to pray and to consider what we might discuss/confess/identify that could be part of the process of confession. The Sacrament was offered in the spirit of healing and wholeness and love, rather than one of condemnation.

That revelation lit up my whole spiritual life and now I go regularly, probably three or four times a year - and prepare thoroughly for each visit.

Jesus gave us the gift of the Sacrament, and while the Anglican Church seems to try to ignore it, it's very existence needs to be broadcast and encouraged widely among the whole of the faithful.