Ash Wednesday Reflections: Confession
My friend Tara wrote a blog on her site about Ash Wednesday and Confession that encouraged me to think a little more about this concept of confession. The Liturgy of Ash Wednesday at its heart is a liturgy of confession (we are but ashes and to ashes we shall return, we have fallen short, we have sinned, we need God) and as I read through the Ash Wednesday liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer last night, and again read part of it posted on Tara’s blog, I found myself pondering this concept of confession. So, I wanted to share with you a few of my thoughts…
I have been thinking off and on the last few weeks about the need to confess to each other... we talked about it a little bit during our storying time at Craig and Sarah’s a few weeks ago and then I was listening to a lecture on Christian history and reminded what an essential piece of the Christian journey confession has always been. There was a time in church history when to confess meant to stand before the whole body of believers/church and tell all of them what you had done wrong - to name your sin before them all - can you imagine that happening today? How foreign that is from our own experience! Even the more private act that confession eventually became in the church (thanks to the Irish concept of “anam cara”) has been lost in protestant circles especially and I wonder how much we have lost…
I think that when you confess to another human being there is something bonding and binding in that moment that we have perhaps lost by our attempt to keep our fellow believers at arm’s length and only show them the good sides of us. It makes me think of this quote I read once..."The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners." When we drop and ignore and neglect confession we lose a unique opportunity for fellowship.
But, we lose something else as well… We lose a sense of our need for God. It is only in naming and recognizing our sin that we can realize how much we really do need God. Too often I think I say that I need God but if I search myself carefully I don't really think or act like I need him...I think I can do it on my own – it makes me think of a line from an Ingrid Michaelson song “I could write my name by the age of three and I don’t need anyone to cut my meat for me. I’m a big girl now, see my big girl shoes. It’ll take more than just a breeze to make me fall over.” Confession is an act that causes us to fall over and fall down; confession makes us admit that we aren’t as big as we think we are, we aren’t as strong as we think we are, we aren’t as self-sufficient as we think we are. Confession forces us to come face to face with our own inadequacy and our own need for a savior....When we drop and ignore and neglect confession we lose a unique opportunity to experience and recognize our own need for God.
I have had very limited experience with confession – I think really the one place that I have really experienced confession on a regular basis is with my husband. It seems like there are often moments when I can clearly see how I have sinned against him and wronged him and need to confess to him and ask for his forgiveness – and it’s a beautiful thing when that happens, in fact some of the times when I have felt closest to my husband has been the times when I have confessed to him some fault against him and humbly, often through tears, asked for his forgiveness. Then he holds me close and for a moment any brokenness that has been in our relationship is mended and I feel close to him, connected to him more deeply than normal. Maybe when we just jump to trying to fix our sin and change our ways and skip over confessing openly our sin we miss out on a precious moment of connection that we could experience with God. Perhaps when we drop and ignore and neglect confession we lose a unique opportunity to experience the loving embrace and close connectedness of God, our first Love.
... but confession is hard… and so foreign to my experience so far that I find myself lost as to how to incorporate it into my Christian walk... I'm starting to feel that confession is something that needs to be brought back into our communal church experience, but I don’t know how to confess… I don’t really know what confession should look like… or maybe that’s just my excuse – maybe the real fact of the matter is I fear confessing, I don’t want to confess, I don’t want to admit that I fail and sin and fall. I want to be strong and perceived as strong. I don’t want to be weak and perceived as weak. Again God brings me back to “lowly and meek, yet all-powerful” – confessing and repenting and falling down before God is a weakness that is also strength. But, it is not strength in myself or my own ability, it is strength in that it is recognizing that the only strength I have is found in Him. I need Him; I am nothing on my own. But, in Him I can become a new creation, a new life, and be given His strength. Confession is an act of death that leads to resurrection and life.
Rejoicing in the journey – Beth Stedman
Photograph by Beth Stedman