Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer

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