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?