looking sin in the eye

seibels chapel candlesOne time, I prepared my confession with a lapsed Buddhist.

It was accidental.

As usual, I’d procrastinated preparing for Confession–scheduled though it was more than a week in advance.  The morning of the appointed day, I took my journal and the book I use to help me look through my sins, and decamped to my coffeeshop after Morning Prayer.  On the way, I ran into a homeless man who asked me for money.  “Give to anyone who asks of you,” my mind said to me loudly, so I offered to buy him breakfast while I got some coffee for myself.  He accepted, we ordered; then he asked me for money.  We talked some, and he went on his way with an egg mcmuffin & artisanal roast.

I sat next to a coffeeshop friend of mine; we met when we realized we were both regulars, I went to the community Shakespeare production he was in, he gives me book recommendations.  He wondered what I was up to with St. Augustine’s Prayerbook.  I told him that St. Augustine (the one of Canterbury, not the more famous, of Hippo) was very good at helping me see my sins.  He was unabashedly intrigued and immediately wanted to know the juicy sins of his priest-friend.  Somehow our conversation devolved into a blow-by-blow review of the sins set forth in St. Augustine’s august book.  Organized by Deadly Sin (as in, “The Seven…”), with many subcategories and even more detailed descriptions–making sure to leave nothing out–the eight pages provide a fine-tooth-comb to use on your life, catching every louse which may try to hide amongst the hairs of your memory.

My self-described lapsed-Buddhist friend and I went through every category, subcategory and description–I’d done this many times before on my own, jotting down the ones that I thought stuck to say out loud later to my priest–he told me that he was a great person to confess to because of his strict adherence to non-judgment.  He was more than a little right.

As we talked through the lines, my boldness grew.  It was as if my friend had started wiping away the fog I’d been desperately huffing and puffing onto the mirror in front of me; I could see my sin clearly–both claim it and lament it.

“Envy?”

“Hmm…”

“It says, ‘dissatisfaction with our place in God’s order of creation, manifested in begrudging his gifts and vocation to others.'”

“Uff, yes.”

It wasn’t that I realized I was addicted to every sin in the book–I tend toward that when I am alone–he’d say, “Do you really suffer that?  I don’t see that in you.”  And though he is little more than a close acquaintance, I knew he was right.  Trying to claim every sin obscured my real addiction to certain ones; it was a sort of defense mechanism–a temptation in and of itself–to avoid focusing on, staring down, rooting out the real corrupting culprit.

IMG_0379The importance of confession isn’t just to hear someone say out loud, “You are forgiven,” though there’s great, great worth in that (being that we’re auditory, en-fleshed creatures, the hearing, touching, seeing pieces of our selves long for cosmic communication in tangible terms) it’s also allowing someone else to look into the mirror with you, to tell you what they see and what they don’t see as the stumbling blocks and dark spots in your life.

Later that day, I cried through the whole Confession rite.  It had been a difficult day, but the words affected me in a way they hadn’t before–I suspect it wasn’t a coincidence.  And since then, I haven’t stopped thinking about the vices I exposed and claimed in the light–how little sprouts burst up so many times in a day, and whether I choose to ignore them or to pull them up immediately.  It’s a rather quiet, reflective, perhaps dark, way to spend Holy Week, but is there a better week to spend this way?  Noticing, lamenting, laying down our sins, knowing that though Friday is coming, Sunday is coming–some day–too.

Psalm 51

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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