Monday, 22 February 2016

Confession and healing

In the story of the Fall, the primal couple disregard God's warnings. They are persuaded take and enjoy forbidden fruit. They act freely, naturally without thought for the consequences. Only afterwards does it dawn on them for the first time, that they are exposed and vulnerable. They experience shame, cover their bodies, hide from sight. When found, they make excuses to mask their disobedience. It's a pattern of behaviour that replicates itself in ways more sophisticated than this tale suggests. We can recognise it in ourselves once we become aware things are not right in our lives and no longer feel comfortable with ourselves and our actions.

Awakening to awareness of self, learning how to integrate this into the way we think and act, is part of development from child to adult. It happens in different ways for each person. The original free will act is portrayed in the story as being made in ignorance and with disregard for the consequence. Thinking things through goes no further for them than the prospect of a little pleasure and the excitement of eating forbidden fruit.

When shame and guilt is awakened in us, the first impulse is denial, concealing what we feel. With this comes a sense of isolation and vulnerability, which can also be denied. This state is an obstacle to heartfelt prayer. Formal worship ritual continue routinely, but satisfaction from them wanes. Only when it becomes possible to admit what we feel and honestly expose it to God's compassion, can a genuine sense of release from the burden be experienced.

'My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.' (Psalm 32:5)

'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.' (1 John 1:9)

The scriptures contain strong examples of penitential prayers voicing the feelings associated with guilt and shame. Remarkable about some of them is the way the contain reflection on the past, explorations of how and what went wrong in life, to lead to the present intolerable condition. Analysis of causes and effects makes learning possible, and opens the way to restoration and healing. Restoring a person to a right and healthy relationship with themselves, God and others requires this therapeutic analysis. 

Understanding the failures and weaknesses of past generations, does not provide an excuse for present misbehaviour, only a way of identifying and understanding inherited tendencies, in an effort to learn how to avoid repeating old errors. It is important to acknowledge both personal responsibility for sin and one's part in 'social sin', in seeking to make a new start, in the light of a different self-understanding. Hence - 

'We acknowledge our wickedness Lord, and the guilt of our ancestors; we have indeed sinned against you.' (Jeremiah 14:20)

'But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors--their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me ... I will remember my covenant with Jacob, my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.' (Lev 26:40 & 42)

Over centuries the church has offered the sacrament of Absolution, involving confession and spiritual direction to the world. Essentially, it is conversation as a healing art. Modern psychological medicine has taken and systematised this, separating it from relationship to God. The fruitfulness of scientific method in healing people is the criterion by which it may be judged. The church believes that reconciliation with God is an essential dimension of true health and fullness of life.

'Have mercy on me, Lord; heal me, for I have sinned against you.' (Psalm 41:4)

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