The title of this blog post may sound familiar. It’s from the famous poem in Ecclesiastes 3 where the Teacher reflects on the different seasons we experience in this life. This poem came to mind as I read Tish Harrison Warren’s recent NYT op-ed on observing Advent where she commented that
To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.
Today is the end of the second week of Advent and while different traditions focus on different themes, one tradition has focused on preparation this week. While I’m not focusing explicitly on Advent here this year, the idea of confession that I introduced recently fits in well with the idea of preparation.
What is Confession?
A few weeks ago I made the case that we are called to confess our sins to God and to others in our communities, but what exactly is confession? When I think of confession, I generally just think of admitting my sin to either God or another person. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s brief description in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, though, points to a broader understanding of the discipline that might be described as including four different parts:
- Acknowledgment of our sin
- Embracing God’s forgiveness
- Change enabled by the Holy Spirit
As you can probably guess, the second aspect is what I usually think of. But in reality self-examination is a crucial aspect of the practice. After all, how can we admit, acknowledge, or confess that of which we are unaware?
Recently I’ve found this prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer to be helpful:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen
Key here has been not rushing through the prayer or simply reciting it, but rather reflecting as I pray through it. How have I sinned in my thoughts? What have I left undone? Here, my acknowledgement of sin is merged with my self-examination.
How does all of this tie back to the opening quote about Advent? The practices of self-examination and confession help us to see the ways in which we contribute to a fallen world that is “still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, [and] darkness” by our “moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.” They remind us of our brokenness. But just as importantly, they invite us to take these things to our God who makes all things new, bringing life from death and resurrection from crucifixion. Maybe in our death to self and our admission of falling short, God will bring new life that blesses those around us and honors our Savior.
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