When I walked out of Father Joe's office at St. Luke's Episcopal Church after offering confession yesterday, I was feeling light. It is a remarkable shift in awareness to move, with a full and sincere heart, through this ritual.
I caught on to what confession offers as a young woman attending an Episcopal Lenten retreat. The leader asked the participants to experience the rite of the Reconciliation of a Penitent, otherwise known as confession. I found that this ritual has the power to create a potentiated space for a desired shift in consciousness which is as reliable as it is remarkable.
It is a short ritual. There is nothing formidable about it except its intimacy. And the precise word itself: You confess. You talk to the priest about what you have done in error. There are no rules. You just open your heart and talk. You end by asking forgiveness for those sins you have named and any other sins you have not remembered or of which you were not aware. You also ask for priestly advice.
The priest responds to what you have said. He forgives you. You are welcomed to new life and told by the priest to "go in peace and pray for me, a sinner." Such is the shape of this humble service.
It has been a long time since I have had a deliberate sin to confess. My mother brought me up to keep my tongue behind my teeth unless I could find something constructive to offer. I do that. I like doing that. I work at the "love thy neighbor as thyself" thing. Most of us do.
That is not why I go to confession. I go there to confess being me. I am a born critic. I constantly see the world as a series of cartoons, and I place savage, funny and judgmental captions on them. Oscar Wilde's best irony has nothing on the fine edge of my inner scorn.
This has nothing to do with my deeper nature, which drives me to love and serve the Creator, or my loving people on the level of souls. It has to do with an inner voice that natters away in my head from a parlor somewhere in my personality shell, a guest who never seems to leave. I do my best not to listen! Decade after decade, however, I hear this persistent voice thinking thoughts of judgment.
That is what I have to confess. It is enough. Thoughts are very powerful. This is not only the teaching of the Christian church but is echoed by sources from other spheres such as scientist Masaro Emoto, who proved, by photographing water crystals, that changes occur in the crystal formations of water upon which one is focusing while thinking certain thoughts. Shadow-side thoughts malform the crystals. Focusing on thanksgiving, joy and peace creates lovely and flowerlike patterns in the crystals.
Similarly, the world of spirit weighs in heavily on the point of thoughts being powerful things, metaphysically speaking. Indeed, from their point of view the creation itself is the thought of the one infinite Creator. And we are sub-creators whose thoughts, they say, create the world we personally inhabit and experience. What we think matters.
So what do we do about these thoughts? We periodically clean house. When I clean out a closet, I get out everything and decide whether it's still good or if it's to be given away. I scrub the closet, freshen its contents and put the things I value back, the better for my attention. The discards are tossed.
It is the same with the spiritual life. Before we seek the "upper room" of prayer and rejoicing, we need to clean house. Once we have cleaned our pantries of dark thoughts and petty emotions, mixed motives and foolish notions; once we have labored, refining, until all is blessed and shining, then we can walk those steps to the second floor, the waiting, sacred, fecund floor of communion and devotion.
During Advent and Lent I make it a point to clean that first floor of my earthly personality. I toss the dross and thankfully lay away that in my personality which is naturally kindly. Then I dare to ascend the stairs to my own heart.
In terms of spiritual trash, the receptacle of confessed sin is not a bin or a charity drop-off but the sacredly focused ears of a human being who hears and forgives, in the place of Christ, with unconditional love. We know Christ forgives sins if asked, as the thief on the cross beside Jesus on Golgotha can testify. The promise "This day you are with me in Paradise" is ritualized in confession.
Easter is coming. The ancient myths spring forth as lively and fresh as the golden petals of forsythia and daffodil, jonquil and the rock iris, golden-centered with their pentitentially purple beards. And the modest Lenten roses are in bloom, calling us to confess the dust in our humanity.
And I have.
Now I am ready to see the light-struck stone of the empty tomb and rejoice. Now, as Clement of Alexandria wrote in the second century, I am ready to sing, "Sunset to sunrise changes now, for God doth make his world anew."
Confession is about retrieving and making intact one's faculties of hope, humility and faith. It is about believing in the possibilities open to those who offer themselves, cleansed as best they can be, for more perfect use.
I open my arms and embrace your spirit. May you find ways to unburden yourself of the dust of old thoughts. May your heart be ready to receive new seeds of transformation today.