From the Book of Proverbs:
Thus says the man: I am weary, O God,
I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?
Surely I am too stupid to be human;
I do not have human understanding.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is the person’s name?
And what is the name of the person’s child?
Surely you know!
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Proverbs 30:1b-4 (NRSV) – March 4, 2014.)
I am later than usual committing to “paper” my thoughts on a portion of today’s readings, but these first verses of the lesson from Proverbs have been with me all day. Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before the season of Lent begins, a day on which in the 2,000-year tradition of the church the faithful are encouraged to meet with a priest and make their confessions. The name, “Shrove Tuesday,” comes from the old English verb “to shrive,” which means to absolve of sin.
Several days ago I sent out an email to the members of my parish advising them that they could, if they would like, make an appointment to offer their confession in the formal rite of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I make that invitation every year. In ten years in this parish not a single person has approached me to hear their confession. I’m not surprised; the piety and devotional practice of what is, essentially, a Midwestern Protestant congregation is very different from the nosebleed-high, bells-and-smells, Anglo-Catholic piety and practice of my initial formation as an Episcopalian. These folks are very like my southern Methodist grandparents for whom the very idea of baring their souls to a priest was anathema.
So it’s been a very long time since I have heard someone say to God, through me as a priest, “I am weary, O God, I am weary. I am too stupid; I have not learned wisdom.” That, really, is what every confession boils down to — a recognition that I am burdened by something really incredibly stupid that I have done or failed to do, an acknowledgement that the result of that has wounded my spirit, and an action taken in hopes of relieving the pain of that wound. It isn’t necessary to do this in the formal confines of the confessional, nor is it necessary to do it in the presence of another human being. But sometimes it helps. Confession, like any prayer, is a conversation between the penitent and God; the confessor is there only to aid in the communication.
I’ve had people tell me that they’ve never done (or failed to do) anything that requires confession. I’m dumbfounded when I hear that . . . because I know for sure that I have! And I’ve heard enough confessions in my years as God’s priest to know that I’m not alone and my experience of my own sinfulness and stupidity (and that of others) pretty much convinces me that it is a universal human condition. We all, every single one of us, fall short of the mark. Every single one of us is in debt to God in some way. Very few of us (and certainly no one I know) has ascended to heaven; very few of us can gather the wind in our hands; very few of us can wrap the waters in their garments; and none of us established the ends of the earth. Perfection and universal knowledge is the providence of only one or two . . . definitely not me and, I’m pretty sure, not of anyone I’ve ever met on this earth.
It’s appropriate to acknowledge that occasionally, even if only once a year.
And now I must confess that I didn’t make an appointment with a priest to make my confession this year. I knew what my day would be like; I knew what was on my itinerary through this day. I started early and didn’t write this, my daily meditation, at the usual time — in fact, I didn’t think I’d write one at all. But something I thought would take more of my time than it did is now accomplished and I find myself with a few minutes to spare. So in the absence of a private time with my confessor . . .
Holy God, heavenly Father, you formed me from the dust in your image and likeness, and redeemed me from sin and death by the cross of your Son Jesus Christ. Through the water of baptism you clothed me with the shining garment of his righteousness, and established me among your children in your kingdom. But I have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and have wandered far in a land that is waste.
Especially, I confess to you and to the Church . . .
[Well, let’s just say that there have been some times when I have been too stupid to be human, when I have not had human understanding, when I have not learned wisdom . . . ]
Therefore, O Lord, from these and all other sins I cannot now remember, I turn to you in sorrow and repentance. Receive me again into the arms of your mercy, and restore me to the blessed company of your faithful people; through him in whom you have redeemed the world, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP 1979, page 450)
I haven’t done any of those things the author of proverbs asks about, but I do know who has, and I know the name of that Person’s Child. And knowing that, I know that I am shriven. Thanks be to God!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.