“No old woman! You are accused of heresy on 3 counts. Heresy by thought, heresy by word, heresy by deed and heresy by action, 4 counts. Do you confess?” (Monty Python). No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, but most of us don’t need the Inquisition to remind us of our failings and shortcomings.
Following on from last week’s post about judging, I felt a natural progression to today’s subject ‘Confession’. Whilst I am not talking about sitting in a dark wooden closet with a faceless priest on the other side of a screen, the Catholic church have certainly latched on to something with the act of Confession. I am not an expert on the efficacy of saying multiple Hail Mary’s, but the bible is certainly supportive of the practice of confessing or sharing our ‘sins’.
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed” (The Message).
First of all, I find the word ‘sin’ has a lot of baggage with those who have been put off the message of Jesus. There is too much emphasis on sinners and going to hell, on which I have some big questions, but I’ll leave that for a Thursday post. Sin is a really short word used in scripture for all the ways we have messed up our lives or the lives of others, usually because we put self first. The sad thing about the impact of these messes we create is the impact they have on our own lives. According to this verse, in the book of James, the impact of confessing or sharing these messed up things is to enable us to live together ‘whole and healed’.
It is no accident that the secular world of psychology puts huge emphasis on encouraging people to share their deepest secrets and hidden fears, shame and guilt among other things. It would seem that James was on to something important when he exhorted his readers to get it out in the open. But why would this simple practice have the ability to make us ‘whole’ and ‘healed’? And what prevents us from eagerly sharing everything to garner these powerful results? This is obviously no magic formula, but there appears to be a lot of evidence in both religious and secular circles that there is much to be gained.
I don’t know about you, but I find it so much easier to talk about others’ faults and failings than my own. Time and again I find myself sitting on messed up stuff that I would rather take to the grave than tell anyone about. OK, I haven’t robbed a bank recently, nor have I let down the neighbor’s car tires. But there are hidden attitudes, feelings, unhealthy thoughts that, frankly I would be ashamed to share with most of you. I don’t need the Spanish inquisition to tell me what makes me feel bad, but I might need them to get it out of me!
The thing that stops me sharing is the very thing I shared last week about the judgment culture we have created that causes me to worry about what you think about me. If I fear that you will reject me, think worse of me, or perhaps even share my hidden failings with others, then I will simply keep these things to myself. When I went through a particularly dark period in my life and almost destroyed everything good that had happened to me, I found the relief and healing that James talks about. It didn’t happen overnight, and it was not an easy road to travel, but involving others in my shame and guilt was a key to restoration.
Now, I am not talking about willfully wronging others and then using confession as a get out of jail free card. Nor am I advocating the kind of confession that implicates the one listening in some proposed fault of theirs, “I need to confess my resentment towards you for the way you have treated me!” A step in our being made whole could very well involve forgiveness, but the simple act of confession should, in itself, open the door to breaking the hold of some of the most powerful negative influences. At times, we can all be held hostage by the effect of guilt over what we have done to others, shame over the poor choices we make. We harbor resentments, blame, hurt and crippling anxieties. I am still learning how to do this myself, still affected way too much by what others might think, but I urge you to join with me in taking the plunge and find that person, or persons with whom you can open this door to healing and wholeness.