This past Sunday, gathered with the community of faith of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, at the appropriate moment in the liturgy, I knelt and, in a silent moment, collecting my thoughts and remembrances of the past week, in unison with all, recited the General Confession:
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.
After which, Rob Brown, St. Matthew’s rector and my friend, stood and pronounced the absolution:
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.
There are times (not always, but, honesty compels that I confess, at times) I will recite a prayer, this prayer, long ago committed to memory, without much sensibility of thought and much less sensitivity of feeling.
For this morning’s reflection, for a moment, purposefully forgetting my theological training and, even more, intentionally ignoring the heart of my believing, I imagined myself as a naturalist; one with little adherence to the existence and governance of spiritual laws. The following prayer (or perhaps more truly, an apologia, less an abject apology and more a personal responsibility-deflecting, self-justifying explanation) is the result:
My most generous God, I confess that, on occasion, I might be considered guilty of having erred in judgment; misremembering, misspeaking, or misdoing something (though I struggle mightily to keep all these things clear in my recollection). Most of it, my most munificent Maker, I attribute to my continued bearing of the burdens of the deficiencies of my nature (there being no perfect being, save You, of course!) and the deprivations of my nurture (there being no perfect upbringing); both for which (I beg to reiterate, though I beseech that You take no undue offense, for I merely seek to reestablish the obvious) You, being the Creator of the cosmos and all that was, is, and is to be, are largely, if not wholly responsible. My most loving Lord, under these circumstances of my unremitting (yet, I pray, not irredeemable) humankindness, I have done the very best that I could to love You with as much of my heart as I could muster at any given time and to love my neighbors as my self (but that test, O Lord, You, in Your omniscience must have known that I , given how little I truly love myself, was doomed to fail and, thus, was unfair from the beginning!). My most patient, pardoning Parent, in response to these my admissions of understandable, yet altogether relatively infrequent lapses in keeping sight of Your way and in striving to do Your will, I plead that You grant unto me the illimitable forbearance for which You, before and through all time, are duly known and, indeed, famous. Amen.
On immediate second thought, this prayer is less an apologia and more than a bit of blasphemy. I’d best stick with the General Confession, which, though always painful to say, at least bears the value, verily, virtue of being truthful.