But last week, while I was at the Celtic Spirituality for Today conference, led by Philip Newell and John Bell, we had some interesting discussion on the topic of confession.
I have to tell you, I'm Reformed. Very Reformed, particularly when it comes to liturgical issues and the theology behind our liturgies. One of the things about Reformed liturgies is that they pretty much always have a prayer of confession somewhere near the beginning--we prepare to encounter the living Word by confessing that we don't get it right, that we don't live the way God calls us, etc. This is one of the things that helps me when people say that Christians are hypocrites--"not really," I say, " because we admit out loud every week that we don't do it right."
But Philip Newell, who is from the Church of Scotland and is also Reformed, said one day that, "in no other relationship do we begin every encounter with the other by saying what s***bags we are. If we do have a relationship where every encounter begins that way, it's probably not a healthy relationship, it's probably very sick and won't last." He says this is the result of the way we have thought of Original Sin, which is a whole different blog post and is also a discussion that involves looking at our tradition from a different angle.
So, back to the confession thing: If, in fact, we do begin our encounters with God by confessing (and it is up close, too, even in the acronym for prayer: ACTS--adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication...sometimes with ID added--intercession, dedication), and if in fact that could be construed as a mark of an UNhealthy relationship with another, then we have a problem.
Is it possible that the reason people *feel* so unworthy, the reason that people *feel* that they have nothing to offer, the reason people *feel* that God hates them...could be because we have a liturgical tradition that reinforces that feeling every week? Yes, I know, we offer words of assurance, declarations of forgiveness, etc, but...is it possible that the words of the confession are sticking more, and polluting our relationship with God, a relationship based on love, not shame?
I do think prayers of confession are important. But I'm beginning to wonder if we need them every week after all? (I know, I know...call up my Reformed theology professor and out me as a heretic now!) Or do we need something else...something that nurtures our loving relationship with God rather than (even subconsciously) plants more seeds of shame? Hmmm....