JoJo Magno, I’m in the middle of trying to write tomorrow’s sermon, struggling with some of Jesus’ more “difficult sayings” (e.g., “Let the dead bury the dead”—wtf?!). But alto has just sent me your confession to Jules, and you’ve, as usual, touched me very deeply. So I can’t help but give up the agony of sermon-writing for a few minutes to respond.
As an Anglican priest, I have been given the somewhat terrifying privilege of hearing confessions, though, if truth be known, very few people actually avail themselves of the opportunity. (Two little-known facts—1. Yes, Anglicans have private confession too, and we have a dandy little aphorism about it: “Everyone may. No one must. Some should.” 2. According to someone who’d know: “Hearing the confessions of nuns is like being pummelled by marshmallows!”)
Anyway, I think we both agree that Jules would be an excellent confessor. She has a keen, sympathetic ear, and a healthy sense of sexuality as gift.
Perhaps surprisingly, many of the things priests hear in confession, are not, technically speaking, actual sins. I suppose that may be because of a perceived need for “filler” (an attempt to distract from the more serious and scary things on the list). It may also be because a lot of folks have been told all their lives, in so many different ways, that deep down at the core of their being, they’re really bad. But they’re not.
We may blame ourselves for all the crap that’s happened to us, it’s true. But tragedies and griefs fall on the best and the worst of us alike, apparently without prejudice. And all of us make mistakes, big and small. For some—certainly for me (just ask Allan)—it will likely take a lifetime to remove the self-doubt we wear under our skin. I suppose confession to another human being, priest or not, is as good a way as any to speed up the process.
I know this from experience. For five long years, in one of my many attempts to deal with my own deep sense of guilt and shame, I had a weekly appointment with a Freudian psychiatrist named Lenny. For the first six months, I was increasingly annoyed that the only words I ever heard him says were, “Well, I think our time is up.” In fact, I wasn’t just annoyed; it infuriated me! (He never even used my name, not once!) But the tabula raza created by his maddening silence eventually enabled me to name all the shit inside me that needed to come out.
And then, when the time seemed to be right, as we were celebrating the end of five years of “therapy” in a final session (with a tea party I’d brought along in a cardbord box—I know, clearly my “therapy” wasn’t quite finished), Lenny spoke. Yes, after all that silence, he finally said what I most truly needed to hear: “David, if you’d just use the amount of time you currently spend telling yourself what a failure you are to, instead, thank yourself for all your talents and gifts, you’d be a much happier person.” (True. But then Lenny wouldn’t have been able to buy himself that new Mercedez, would he?)
O, JoJo, you are indeed a firecracker! Don’t listen to those voices that want to convince you otherwise: the crazy-ass drivers who leave you in the dust; daydreaming students; criticizing colleagues; parents who (apparently oblivious to their own offensiveness) sideswipe the choices we’ve made as adults; relatives whose impeccable and unliveable homes stand in silent judgment of ours; stupid academics agreeing with even stupider Christian fundamentalists (as if Jesus ever had anything at all to do with “family values”); egregiously insensitive bureaucrats who clearly don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. Don’t listen to them, and don’t listen to what echoes inside you as if it was true either.
Sure. Curl up in a ball. Make your cocoon. Grieve like a fucking trooper. But don’t worry, rub, or beat yourself up with guilt. I believe this is true: Low self-esteem is just a filler trying to distract you from the real pain. Scream and rave and cry and sit dumbfounded in silence.
And write. You are a firecracker—brilliant, surprising, colourful, awe-inspiring. A firecracker: you often take our collective breath away by your honesty and vulnerability, your light revealing the truth inside us all. And I suppose that’s the reality of confession, too, the recognition of what a crock our apparent strength and assurance often are, when deep inside we feel like shit.
So we are all with you, all your confessors, with Lon and alto taking the lead.
Many of us give the impression that we’re OK, but I suspect none of us really is. And when we’re hurting, even the seeming easiest communications become dense with anxiety’s weight. Then all we can do in the darkness is take the risk of whispering our deep-down fears to each other to know we’re not alone.
Ultimately, the sacramental role of a confessor is to assure the penitent that God has forgiven everything. “Everyone may. No one must. Some should.” The week before I was ordained, I piously decided it would be helpful to say my confession, though I couldn’t figure out who’d be a good confessor. Finally, I chose a friend, a very quiet, older woman (not a priest), who was, unsurprisingly, taken aback by my strange request. “All I want,” I explained, “is for you to hear what I have to say, and then to give me a big hug and tell me it’s OK. That I’m loved anyway.” God bless her, she did.
JoJo, eat all the chocolate fish you want.