Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Confession

It is quiet here. Darkness slips across the world outside as we sit quietly in this significantly insignificant place. This is no building of stone and authority. No grand intimidating arches or veils of stained glass can be seen. Confessionals are conspicuously absent from the modest room, replaced irreverently by simple furniture on a worn carpet floor stained with the comings and goings of everyday life.

We bring no offering. No incense or holy water. No empty piety or false modesty. Such things are unnecessary here. Extraneous. They are the trappings of a system which cannot contain this place.

Only two broken men. And stillness. Offering enough perhaps.

He casts his eyes down and leans forward as he exhales and clenches his hands. The silence of the room generates its own mass, settling on the man’s fallen shoulders like wet snow on a weakening roof. Bowing under its weight, he shifts anxiously, waiting for an ebb in the silence to muffle the starkness of his words.

He speaks, tentatively at first. A jumble of hesitations, distractions and defensive incantations to protect him from the judgment he has poured out on himself and which he fears to find reflected in me. I hear the echoes of other, more unctuous voices behind his own.

He begins to pick at scabs left by the empty balm of religion, recalling endless repentances, prayers and promises. Each followed by the pain of failure and the despair of hopelessness, the fear abandonment by God. A fear too often given flesh by those who claim to represent Christ, but pull up stakes when the performances of their disciples prove less than stellar.

Only a little time passes before the wound ruptures and a stream of lust, lies and fear drains into the stillness of the room. For a few moments it hovers there between us, yellow and fetid. Raising his eyes for the first time, he looks for some sign of judgment in my eyes - something to confirm the guilt that consumes him, to make it sacred, a vehicle of atonement. That particular comfort will be denied him.

Instead, I ask if he will hear my confession. Confusion spreads across his face and he nods mutely as I recite my own list of sins. The list is current and it is not small. There is no pride or bravado in the sharing, no affected shame or tears. It is the truth, no more and no less.

Neither of us speaks for a few moments. Eventually a relieved, awkward laugh escapes him and he makes a blithe comment about the expected brevity of my career in the church. I agree with him and we share the laughter. He looks at me seriously, solemnly and asks with some hesitancy if God really forgives so freely.
Opening my mouth to speak, I stop short, unsure of how to respond. As for me, I believe God forgave all of humanity on the cross of Jesus Christ. I believe that He forgave us in the cross even before time, space or matter ever existed; when it was simply Father, Son and Spirit in the everything of eternity. I believe that the love and light of God in Christ penetrates and transforms every darkness. What could possibly stand in the way of so great a love?

I think some would answer: a justice of equal greatness. Perhaps they are right. I can only respond with the words of James 2:13, “mercy triumphs over [rejoices against, exults over] justice [judgment].”

“I believe that he does.” It is all I can say. Ultimately, I suspect it is all anyone can say.

We are the same, this man and I. Tragically broken souls struggling through the discharge of a diseased world, we gasp and strain for air, coming up most often with mouths full of infection. In Christ, we are healed but the sickness surrounds and gags, threatens to suffocate us with hopelessness.

We are called to light, love and healing, but that calling draws us through the darkness of hatred, selfishness and despair. We are agents of redemption to the precise degree that we are willing to descend into that darkness and become sacrifices. And he is deluded who believes that the business of redemption can be done without soiling hands and hearts.

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