For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. This blog is an excerpt from my yet-to-be-released book about my experiences, taken from the chapter on Confession. Previously posted in Dec., 2008.
It wasn’t really a bad weed eater, as weed eaters go. Built by a well-known and trusted company, this weed eater had served the community well over the years, faithfully trimming grass and enabling us to maintain the beautiful land nestled in the magnificent Ozark Mountains known as the Little Portion Hermitage. However, on this particular morning the weed eater must have gotten up on the wrong side of the garage, for it absolutely refused to start.
Try as I might, I could not get the weed eater to start. Does it have gas? Check. Is the spark plug okay? Check. Well, that’s as far as my small engine talents can take me. So, let’s pull on the rope some more. Once more. One more time. Pull again. Pull. Pull pull pull pull pull pull pull pull. About the time I started to feel the blister come up on my finger from jerking on the rope, I’d had enough. I laid hands upon it (in the name of Jesus, of course) and removed the offending member from my presence.
I didn’t really believe that a long flight out the garage door would help the obstinate weed eater start. But for that brief, wonderful moment, the sight of the obnoxious, obviously UNSAVED weed eater flying helplessly (if unrepentantly) across the driveway and into the shrubs by the common center made me feel better. Walking out into the bright sun to retrieve the varmint, I bought it back into the garage and tried it once again. I was right. It still didn’t start.
Fast-forward to the next available Friday. Friday morning is the time when, during morning prayers, we all had the opportunity to confess any sins that needed to be, well, confessed. (Our time of monastic confession was different from the sacrament of penance, or what most people understand as “confession.” Our monastic confessions dealt with habits, mistakes, unhealthy thought patterns, etc. The more serious sins were dealt with by going to a priest, or in my case, talking to my pastor.) Some of those sins everyone already knew, like coming in late to chapel one morning during the week. Others weren’t so obvious to the community, like harboring jealousy, losing your temper, or speaking in an offensive manner to one of the members.
As far as the actual confession went, we tried to keep it simple. For example, someone might say, “I would like to ask forgiveness of God and the community for oversleeping and coming in late to chapel.” Take particular notice that we would accuse ourselves of committing a sin. This is not always the case. In some monastic traditions, especially those who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, the brothers may still accuse one another of sin, but always in the spirit of love. Although I was grateful that our community did not accuse one another of sin, I often thought it might not be a bad idea to establish that practice at the Little Portion. I remember sitting in silence waiting for someone to confess-someone everybody in the community KNEW needed to confess and get the problem off their chest, but instead they would sit quietly in their seat. Sometimes I would feel sorry for them, because confession is not for the benefit of those who hear, but for those who are willing to speak the truth.
After someone did confess, the community responded with simple silence. Only after all the confessions were made would John Michael say something, and his words were a simple extension of forgiveness to the offenders. And this is what I liked about our time of confession: What was said during confession stayed in confession.
Now, I didn’t know if anyone saw me wing the heathen weed eater out the garage door, but I confessed it nonetheless. (Note: You should confess your sins because it is the right thing to do, not simply because you got caught. The former you do because it reflects the holiness of God, the latter because it reflects the morality of Hollywood or Washington D.C.) My confession went something like this. “I would like to ask forgiveness of God and the community for throwing the weed eater out the garage door after I couldn’t get it to start. I tried and I tried but it wouldn’t start and I don’t have much patience for things that don’t work the way they are supposed to work which I think is a sin in and of itself because built-in obsolescence is nothing more than a way for a company to make more money and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get it to go and it made me mad and I picked it up and hurled it across the driveway but then I felt bad about that and brought it back to the garage and tried it again and it still wouldn’t start and then I asked for help from someone and it finally started but I was still mad.”
After waiting for a few moments, John, quite uncharacteristically, offered this comment. “Jim, are you confessing a sin or indicting the weed eater?”
Have you ever been so cleanly cut to the core by the truthful words of a friend-all the while knowing they were so right and so gentle about it you couldn’t justify yourself in any way-that all you could do was sit in your own shame while the rest of the community of monks and nuns tried to suppress their grins? No? This has never happened to you? Well, it happened to me. So after waiting a few moments, I tried it again.
“I’d like to ask forgiveness of God and the community for losing my temper with the weed eater the other morning.”
John ended our morning chapel by extending the forgiveness of God and the community to all the confessors, and to my knowledge, the only person who has ever told that story on me is me. I don’t even know if John remembers it. I’ll have to ask him.