Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Preparing for Confession

It has been shamefully long since my last confession. The last scheduled one was derailed due to lateness, and six months later, this presbytera is dying for confession. 

St. Ephraim the Syrian has a wonderful pre-confession prayer that I almost always use in preparation.

I, who am full of transgressions, judge those who transgress. If I am not honored  I feel abhorred and consider as enemies those who tell me the truth. If I am not flattered, I feel disgusted. Being unworthy, I accept honors  Those who do not serve me I defame as arrogant. I ignore the brother and sister who are sick, but when I am sick, I want to be loved and cared for. I despise my superiors and overlook the inferiors. If I keep myself, even for a little bit from unreasonable desires, I become vainglorious. If I attain some degree of vigilance, I am entrapped by its opposite. If I restrain myself from foods, I am thrown down because of my pride. If I make some progress in virtue, I boast before my brothers and sisters. Externally I appear humble, but in my soul I am presumptuous  I am not going to mention the vain thoughts I have in church, and the wanderings of my mind during prayer. I leave aside the hypocritical meetings, the greed in the give and take of business, and the publication of the mistakes of others and the disastrous slanders. This is my accursed life. O Lord, grant me repentance for the sake of Your infinite compassion. 

    St. Ephraim the Syrian 4th century

I love this prayer, for it captures so many of my sins, and it always evokes some amazing realization, about half-way into confession. I end up surprised, in tears, and unbound.

Recently, God has been doing this to me, putting on chains that unbind something else. The broken pelvis, that forced me to realize I don't have to be a slave to a run. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I think Legion plagues me, for other passions attack. But He teaches me that I can let go. I don't have to yell and scream when I don't get my way.

Second, I had prayed, when a friend was diagnosed with MS, that God afflict me, not her. It was a prayer of self-pity and sin, I realize now. I've always counted myself deficient, but in a shame-based way, not in a humble way. Brene Brown, in her TED talk on shame, points out that shame saying we are not good without reason, whereas guilt is knowing what we've done that was no good. One is from the father of lies, for we are good. We created Imago Dei, in God's image. But we still sin. Guilt is something we can release, in the Sacrament of Confession. Shame is the lie that we were never any good, not even created in goodness. It is the rejection of God's love for us.  When my sister was diagnosed with cancer recently, and I saw my father's heartbreak, I realized that prayer, me not she, would not do my father good. His heart would still be broken. So would our Father God's. He does not desire the death of us. He desires that all should be saved, be healed. 

Today, my sister began chemo for her cancer. We messaged her verses 1-4 of Psalm 41: 

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. The Lord protects and preserves them —they are counted among the blessed in the land—he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord;heal me, for I have sinned against you.
For a bit, I wondered if we should message that last part, the part about mercy, healing and sin. But then, I realized, whenever Christ healed a person in the New Testament, he often said, "Go. Your sins are forgiven you. He was healing us both of infirmary of body and soul.

Glory to God. 

Today, the snow came down, seven soft inches of duvet. It calms the world. It is purity that absorbs sound and at a certain warmer winter temperature, it packs into delicious toys of snowballs and snowmen. Most of all we can scoop into snow cones. Tomorrow it will melt away, and in my post-confession glow, I thank God. 

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