Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Confession: Good For the Soul?

For all this I am sorry and I pray for forgiveness. I want to do better. -- from "Individual Confession and Forgiveness," Lutheran Book of Worship

My friend Christopher posted a thoughtful essay today on preparing for individual confession. This is a subject that intrigues me, because we Lutherans just aren't into individual confession with a clergyperson, even though Brother Marty himself was a proponent -- waffled about including it with Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as a full sacrament -- and even though we have a rubric for individual confession in the Lutheran Book of Worship. For most folks in the ELCA this is terra incognita, like The Litany or the front row of pews.

I wonder how comfortable I would be asking for an appointment with my pastor for individual confession. (I can imagine his initial reaction: "Wow! What'd you do?") For that matter, I wonder how comfortable he'd be if I asked. Not because I have any particularly spectacular sins to get off my chest; if I went the route of anonymous penitent in the confessional of one of our local Catholic parishes, I imagine the priest would wind up copping a few Z's while I nattered on, or maybe use the time to read the paper. ("Excuse me, my child -- as long as you're catching your breath, 'Ring, to Tolkien villain,' eight letters, third letter E -- any idea what that is?")

No, my usual sin list is pretty banal: a tiresome litany of selfishness, unkindness, pettiness, impatience and laziness. Our prayers may rise up before God like incense, but from my penitential perspective, the aroma of my confession would seem to bear a greater resemblance to what rises up from my garbage can on trash pickup day -- the disquieting funk of a great many festering little items I'd rather not have to examine.

I suspect that describes the confessions of most of us on any given day. And I also suspect that that is why it's helpful to at least occasionally air ourselves out, out loud, to another human being willing to be Christ for us.

I'd be interested in hearing about readers' experiences with individual confession, especially if you are in a tradition like mine where it is not the norm -- not the content of your confession, obviously, but what it was/is like for you to place yourself under this discipline. Was it hard to go through the first time? Is it a helpful practice for you?


PimpPia said...

I liked it! Keep posting.. =)


J.C. Fisher said...

Um, LC: ever get the feeling you've just been spammed? (Run along now, little girl)

Well, I've commented on my "confessional life" over on *Chris's blog. Nothing really to add, but I really recommend it (personal confession).

I think it helps to get a handle on some of one's sins---saying them out-loud to another---but even more (MUCH more), is the value of actually hearing "I absolve you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . the Lord has put away all your sins." :-D

LutheranChik said...

J.C. ROFL. Maybe I should post my photo...that'll fix it!

Good point. I run into many people online, usually in the more "Protestant" Protestant denominations, who say they just don't feel forgiven. Those words of absolution, said just to them, might truly make a difference for them. Ironically, in the ELCA, the liturgical tinkerers keep watering down the words of absolution in the corporate confession, practically to the point of "Have a nice day" (don't get me started on dumbed-down liturgies)...not doing anyone any favors. (I'm always wavering between terror and hope that some ELCA bigshot is lurking around here and actually paying attention.)

Charlotte said...

I'm intrigued by the idea of individual confession. Having heard some other people on the subject (and read Christopher's excellent post) it is a lot more than the stereotype of RC confession booths of my yoot.

I'm not intrigued enough to want to avail myself of it at this time. The question of "who to do it with" would loom large. I'm not sure about the idea of with my "official" clergy, although I would certainly use them as resources. But I guess if I were more interested in the process such matters would become more clear.

But unlike some you know, I hear the absolution as meant for me. ;-) And I try to think of individual things when I'm doing the general confession, either at service or when I'm doing the office.

Sheryl said...

I grew up in the Roman Catholic church. When I was in elementary school, we were taken to Confession every six weeks, and I pretty much had the same routine every time, "I disobeyed by parents, I told some lies, and I was mean to a friend." The priest then gave me three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and three Glory Be's as my penance. It really had no meaning.

My dad continued to make me go over the summer, but I stopped going after a really bad experience when I was 12. I went into the confessional (this particular one didn't allow for face-to-face confession, which I always preferred), and began the formula, "Bless me Father for I have sinned," when he turned out the lights and left, and left me sitting in the pitch dark room by myself.

I've been to confession exactly 3 times since then, and felt like I was rushed through each time, like it was a chore for the priest to be bothered to listen to me.

I like the concept of individual confession, and maybe it's something I would take advantage of if I had ever had a more positive experience.

Christopher said...

Never done individual confession, but I had to say I loved this part of your post.
"For most folks in the ELCA this is terra incognita, like The Litany or the front row of pews."
The front row of the pews... yeah, agreed.

Kathryn said...

Oh...LC it is truly wonderful.
During the retreat before each of my ordinations (Deacon last year, priest just a month ago) we were given the opportunity to make a private confession, and it was hugely helpful. It made me address and articulate things which I'd not even recognised in myself till working on the agenda with God beforehand...and God undertook some truly stunning unblocking and clearing away of hurt and mess through the Sacrament. I do think the impact might depend to some degree on how safe you feel with the priest concerned...not in terms of anxiety that they might betray trust but simply in that some people are easier to bare one's soul to than others...But hearing those words of forgiveness, after you've dug around in some rather murky and unpleasant areas of the inner self...is the most fantastic and liberating thing ever. When I emerged from my session just before priesting, I would have slid down the bannisters if there hadn't been a post half way down!
Highly highly recommended...I'm now trying to work out a way that I can build the process into my spiritual life on a regular basis (at least once a year) now that I've run out of ordination retreats :-)

Anonymous said...

As ye olde LCMS preacher I have had numerous people in my office in various acts of confession (none very formal). I have then spoken or demonstrated absolution and even share Communion with them.

My personal experience with confession was with a non-Christian therapist who dare I say incarnated grace to me.

Seems to me our biggest sin in Lutheranism is self-righteousness followed closely by parolicalism...yet sins are still only the symptoms of Sin inside.


J.C. Fisher said...

Oh, I almost forgot:

'Ring, to Tolkien villain,' eight letters, third letter E

That would be, "Precious"! :-)

bls said...

Well, I've never been to an individual religious confession, but we in A.A. have Step 5 as part of our program of recovery: "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

I recommend it as an interesting read, if nothing else, and maybe will help you with some ideas? It helps us year in and year out.

(I'm hoping this web version is the full, complete, and correct version as written in the little A.A. book "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions." I'll read it and make sure to alert you of any errors.)

LutherPunk said...

As one who has been to individual confession more than once, I must say how freeing and truly forgiven I felt. Now, as a pastor, I am striving to restore this practice in my own parish, but finding people not very interested. For Lent, I am considering posting times for confession to see if people will bite. I think that a very small handful will, but not many. Hell, I reintroduced Maundy Thursday footwashing three years ago, and only about 10 or 12 people out the entire congregation participate.

Like Dr. Braaten said, we are becoming just one more protestant denomination with no interest in our own history or practice. I, for one, am saddened by that fact.

karen said...

I guess I'm unusual since I have had experience with personal confession. Before I joined the church, I was carrying around a lot of baggage about whether or not I actually belonged there. Long story, but let's just say an event in my life seemed completely unforgivable, and I wasn't sure I would ever feel comfortable in church again. My very sensitive female Pastor knew something was going on, and, with gentle prodding, got the gist of the story out of me. She suggested Confession as a way to get past my doubts and fears. I sobbed all the way through, and when we were done I felt completely freed and joined the church a new person. It was beyond description. Corporate Confession is now the highlight of the service for me, and when I hear the words of Absolution, I am overwhelmed with the love God has for me, his very wounded and broken child.

As an aside, Lutherpunk, I love Maundy Thursday foot washing and always participate. Our California congregation has an interesting twist, though. When the congregation is done, several church members then turn the tables on the Pastors and wash their feet. The first time it happened, I thought they would fall over from shock, but they've now gotten used to it. It's wonderful, and a gentle reminder that we are all called to serve.

LutheranChik said...

Lutherpunk: Sometimes you have to just keep doing something until it clicks. We have a kind of agape meal on Maundy Thursday -- instead of footwashing we do handwashing -- and it took maybe three years for it to really catch on with the parishoners...I think maybe the first year we had maybe 30 participants at very most, but this year I'd say we had almost double the attendance.

LutheranChik said...

Karen: What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it with us.

greg said...

Great post LC, and great comments. I too was raised RC and my experience was perfectly described by sheryl. After a 30 year hiatus from the church, I joined my wife and children at the Lutheran church to which they already belonged, and found the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness in the LBW far more meaningful than anything I ever did in a confessional as a child. I always carry on a little conversation with God as I recite the words, and I find that this conversation goes a lot more quickly to the point than it ever did with a priest present. Of course, the real difference could be that then I was 9, and now I'm 45.

On the other hand, my list of sins (at least since I made it out of adolescence) sounds pretty much like yours - plenty horrible but all in a very routine sort of way. Reading karen's post, I can see a definite place for individual confession. I'm just thankful that I haven't needed it yet - none of the really stupid things that I have done have had the terrible consequences that they might have had.

LutheranChik said...

The more I think about it, the more I think that I might like to confess annually. And if I actually finish my lay ministry program (for some reason, the other day the three-year training commitment really hit home for me);-)...I might like to experience individual confession before I am commissioned.

But I don't know whom I might want to confess to. I'm not sure if my parish pastor is the one to hear me. Maybe that answer will become clearer to me later.

Brooks Deleon said...

Excellent, that was really well explained and helpful