“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
– James 5:16
“There is no form of therapy, no technique, no method, that even comes close to being as healing as the simple and courageous act of becoming truly and honestly open with another human being, and then being fully accepted by them in return.”
– Matt Atkinson
During my years of therapy, I eventually spilled everything, all my deepest darkest secrets, all my worst thoughts and deeds. There was much healing in that, far more healing than I had dared hope for. But something was missing…and, as a Baptist Preacher’s kid, what I longed for seemed crazy at times, the result of watching too many old movies, of having an overwrought imagination, of longing for the impossible…
My spiritual journey has been taking me into the Anglican Church. So on two different afternoons I found myself at a coffee shop with the priest, pouring out my story to him. The telling took two installments. It was a confession of sorts — he was even wearing his collar.
But something was missing, and by then I knew what it was.
Our particular flavor of Anglicanism believes in and practices the Sacrament of Confession. So I went last Saturday for my first ever real confession. I’d prepared prayerfully, and I felt an overwhelming grief over the enormity of my sins, even though I’d confessed most of them to God and fully believed myself to be forgiven.
It was not exactly how I’d always imagined from childhood on…I didn’t slip into some beautiful cathedral and find myself in one of those mysteriously beautiful wooden confessional booths, separated from a priest who seemed to always be there, hidden in the shadows, just waiting to hear my confession.
It was more simple…two chairs back to back. I faced the altar in our little church, where I could see the Crucifix.
That broke my heart. My beautiful Savior…
The priest said the perfect words. He stood in the place of Christ for me, because that is what the Church and its ministers are supposed to do and be — we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, His representatives here on earth.
He gave me penance…not punishment, not a “work” to “earn” forgiveness, but ways in which I can better care for my soul.
The whole thing was far more emotional than I expected. And it wasn’t as hugely and immediately transformative as I’d always imagined, when I used to tell people — only halfway joking — that I wouldn’t have needed years of therapy if I’d had a priest to confess to.
But as I was processing the whole thing, after I’d done my first act of penance (which seemed more like a wonderful reward and blew my preconceived notions of penance right out the window) it suddenly struck me that I felt cleaner somehow…lighter…a greater sense of freedom.
Forgiveness was no longer a theological concept. It was real. It had a voice, not just any voice, but a voice that spoke authoritatively. (Yes, I still believe in the priesthood of all believers, but I also believe in…well, in the priesthood.) Forgiveness had emerged from the abstract and from words on a page — even from sacred words on sacred pages — and had become immediate, here and now, part of the physicality and reality of my everyday life.
The next day I had the awesome privilege of doing the reading from the Old Testament and the Epistles during Mass. It’s been years since I’ve read Scripture out loud during a church service; there isn’t as much of a call for that in most protestant evangelical churches. But I remember that, each time before, I approached the responsibility with great fear and trembling, not out of nervousness about reading out loud in front of people, but out of a sense of inadequacy. I am a woman of unclean lips…how dare I read God’s Word in church? Yesterday I still had a sense of reverance and responsibility, but I knew my lips were clean. I felt much joy.
Partaking of the Eucharist was even more precious than ever.
Today I sent a text to my priest, wanting to make sure that he knows that I want to be confirmed in the Anglican Church when our bishop visits us in January. As I was sending the text, I joked to myself, Haha, after hearing my confession, Father Chris is going to tell me that I should wait several years until I’m hopefully less of a vile sinner! but then I remembered:
The Bible says so. My priest says so. The Church says so. The saints and angels say so. Most importantly, God says so. He has always said so, but now…now I know.