Thursday, March 24, 2016

Imperfect contrition

On Tuesday I had planned to go to confession after work, in honor of holy week. I was late leaving so I didn't get to the church until later than expected. There were about ten people ahead of me in line. If each person takes five minutes in the confessional, that's -- holy crap, I'm going to be here forever.

Waiting in line my mind was all over the place. I felt obnoxious and snarky.  I studied the stations of the cross illustrated on the wall, occasionally checking my phone when my back was turned, waiting to hear the latest in a family text exchange.  It was warm in the church and I could hear kids playing outside, dogs barking. I was tempted to leave. I saw people I recognized from church and entertained sarcastic and uncharitable thoughts. I thought about the stained glass windows and what I'm pretty sure was a mistake in their assembly.  And I counted the people ahead of me, over and over, wondering who was taking so long and what on earth they could be talking about in there, occasionally feeling abashed when priest or penitent would raise their voice and I could hear snatches of their conversation.

Inside the confessional I still felt disengaged. I went to reconciliation before Christmas and I didn't feel like I had accumulated a lot of big stuff to get rid of -- my soul didn't feel as thick and slovenly as before, this was a mere teeth-cleaning of a confession. The priest was a little more stern than I expected, offering me very direct suggestions for things I should be doing to be a better person. I suppose I deserved that. The conversation went in some unexpected directions but I still felt off -- my head just wasn't there. He asked if I had said a prayer of contrition while I was waiting in line (I hadn't). He asked me to pray for the others who had confessed, because he had asked them to pray for me. I felt a little cowed at this.

I don't know. I am still returning to the rhythms of a spiritual life. I have been drawn to the mercy and compassion expressed and lived by the pope. The prescriptive elements, the instructions on what to do in my life, in the bedroom, in the realm of my family and other people's -- I just don't know.

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