The dog days of summer have me looking forward to the bluer penitential liturgical seasons...
I can really start to feel them this time of the year at the apex of summer.
Especially here in the Sierra Valley of Northern California. It’s constantly blue skies and bright sun from first light to dusk. I know that it sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m really not (okay, maybe a little).
It’s so strange how much I’ve grown to love the more penitential liturgical seasons like Advent and Lent. I look forward to our communal confession (it’s so weird to be admitting that in print) that we say regularly during those times of the year.
Yes, I know the world has been blown up and turned upside down in 2020. Do we need more somberness right now? Do we need to go through the muck and the mud any more?
I say, no…
However, what I DO need (and I can only speak for myself here) is a season to allow God to hold it all.
For so long, I looked back at the rite of confession from my Roman Catholic upbringing with a W-T-F glare. But now, it’s one of the most enriching parts of the liturgy. Not as a way to wallow in self-loathing (though that can also be cathartic in a weird way). But to be held in my flawed human frailty by the very ground of being.
I love these more penitential seasons because they allow for utterly honest self-examination before God.
I know that a lot of thinkers from the 60s and 70s thought that if we just removed the wrathful God from our cultural narrative that we’d be guilt-free. But it’s not the case.
The inner-accuser (satan) is still there. It will always be there. No amount of work that we do will be enough to appease it. It wants more and more from us, from the world, and from the people around us.
And since many of us don’t go to church anymore (especially now during the pandemic), where do we go?
A lot of us go to work (if we’re so fortunate to have work at this moment). We show up at work and unconsciously see that as a way to absolve ourselves of the accuser’s voice.
Have you noticed that those who #hustle harder (a sanctifying rite in today’s culture) are often the most miserable to be around?
We’re still human. We still muck things up on more levels than we’ll ever know. Even the ‘right’ things are often the wrong things.
Feeling bad — dare I even say ‘guilty’ — is a human emotion. Not something that religious people drummed up to control people (though many of them twisted it into this).
Without God, I’m alone in this. And it’s unbearable. I must distract myself with Netflix (or worse) because I can’t take sitting alone with my inner accuser and abuser.
But I also can’t take it in the face of a fire and brimstone preacher. Having someone up at the pulpit telling me that God is mad at me.
In my Lutheran tradition, confession starts and ends with baptism. In my guilt, I am held in Christ.
Do you know how amazing it feels to admit you’ve fallen short or mucked things up WHILE KNOWING that you’re totally freed and forgiven? It’s as liberating as it gets. Ahhhhhh…
It’s because of God’s defiantly unending love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness that I can be so utterly honest about how I’ve blown it again.
My only role in this is to allow myself to crumble before God. This takes a lot of trust. But in that trust, miracles literally happen.
God truly is THE outright best — the only — judge. It’s only God who can hold our guilt and shame. Who can allow us to express it. Who can take all of it and absorb it into Godself and renew us in the light of the resurrection.
Only God can do this. Our work can’t do this. Our therapist can’t do this. Our meds can’t do this. Our parents, kids, partners, and spouses can’t do this. God is the only One.
People in 12-step programs get this. It’s from the Christian playbook. But because our modern culture has such a heightened allergy to feeling any sense of guilt — because we’ve devised so many ways to detract from it — we’ve abandoned it and have deprived ourselves of this ancient rite of confession and forgiveness.
Well, it’s still there in some churches.
I’m not ordained yet, but I’ll say it…
Your sins are forgiven.
Now, go sin boldly. Sin humanly. And know you’re held by the only One who can take it all and transform it into something beautiful.