Sitting in a bar the other night I mentioned to my close friend, Scott that I was going to start seeing a Catholic priest for confession. As a Mennonite and one who believes strongly in the priesthood of all believers, Scott’s immediate response was a quizzical look followed with, ‘Why don’t you just confess to us?” I tried to briefly explain amidst the clinking beer bottles and overhead music, that it wasn’t so much about my not feeling I could share my garden-variety transgressions with my community but that I was genuinely drawn to the traditional spiritual practice of confession. I’m not yet convinced a priest can offer me more “effective” absolution than my fellow struggling companions following The Way. But I do still have enough of my cradle- Catholic tendencies to want to try formally meeting with a confessor. Yes, I’m a cradle catholic who has never been to confession. That’s a story for another day.
The point for now is that for the past several months I have found myself thinking more and more about practicing confession. I am not exactly sure what I hope to get out of embracing this practice. I just know that once I began to think about it the invitation seemed to grow louder. I imagine that like all spiritual disciplines, at its core, the practice of confession holds more gift than sacrifice. I know the new term is “reconciliation” but I can’t get used to that. There is something humbling and transparent about the word “confession.” It connotes a distinct posture in my mind, one that suggests a willing humility and powerlessness before God. In the myriad of ways in which we hurt one another and ourselves at the center of our violence is movement away from God, from the one who invites us to love because we first have been loved. So even though I recognize the importance of confession and repentance within our communities I of late have been compelled to think about holy confession before God.
Maybe it’s because I have spent the last year and a half training to be a spiritual director in the Ignatian understanding of spirituality. I have become even more sensitive to the transformative power of habituating oneself in traditional ancient spiritual disciplines. Confession seems to be one of those practices that religious and spiritual people easily do away with as antiquated and unnecessary, and yet, culturally we live in a ubiquitously confessional society. Politics, reality TV, and celebrity news offer public outlets to “get things off our chest,” without creating genuine communal contexts for people to “repentant and turn around.” Confession is not about “finally bearing our secret shames.” It is not about unloading our guilt, or working to be better individuals. I think confession is primarily about remembering our identity as forgiven and reconciled children of God. And it can be a powerful way of immersing ourselves back into the story that claims us above all other stories.
I see my confessor for the first time next week. Honestly, I am both apprehensive and eager. Certainly, I can think of a fistful of mildly deplorable sins by which to initially ease into things. I just have this sense that if I go into this expecting to meet with God then God might actually show up. And that’s probably what throws me off kilter the most.