Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

"Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Abide in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins."--Reconciliation of a Penitent, p. 451, Book of Common Prayer


Before there was the cross, there was the Mpatapo. It is a West African symbol that represents the bond or knot that binds disputing parties to a peaceful, harmonious reconciliation--a symbol of peacemaking after strife. It's a sign of peacemaking not only with others, but with the universe and with one's self. I thought it would be a great symbol to combine with the topic of one of the least-used rites of the Book of Common Prayer--The Reconciliation of a Penitent.

Reconciliation as a rite is something in our Anglo-catholic tradition as Episcopalians that tends to get pushed to the closet, especially if one is of the more Anglo-Episcopalian variety. It's something that, in a way, the Roman Catholics seem to have co-opted, so many stereotypes have sort of built up from that co-opting. I have had friends in the church who ached from the lack of a good way to "feel reconciled," that when I mentioned the Rite of Reconciliation, they literally recoiled, wrinkled up their noses, and said, "I don't need to confess my sins to a priest to be forgiven. This is between God and me."

Well, they're absolutely right in one sense of it. We confess sins to God all the time, whether it is privately in our prayer time, or corporately on Sunday morning. It's true. You don't "need" a priest. Yet when we confess corporately, and the priest makes the sign of the cross, we don't run screaming from the aisles, yelling, "I don't NEED that! Stop it!" In fact, there is often (at least for me) a feeling of relief that the priest and I are making the sign of the cross together. It's not that there is any mystic juju in it, but that it is a physical and outward sign of an internal process, and there is just something nice about the physical nature of it. It makes us feel connected to the belief we are forgiven.

I have made use of the Rite of Reconciliation every now and then, and at least for me, it goes far beyond "telling it to a priest and having the priest do magic juju." I historically like to do reconciliation early on in Lent, simply for "housecleaning purposes." It makes me feel like I am starting off my season of self-examination on the right foot. It's the Christian equivalent of removing all the chametz in the house for Passover. But I have also used this rite when I felt there wasn't exactly "a person" with which to be reconciled.

Let's just look at reconciliation if you and I had a disagreement and I was in the wrong. At some point, if all went according to plan, I would approach you, and say, "I was wrong. I'm sorry. Please forgive me." Hopefully, you would do that. Hopefully, I would change my ways and do better by you as a result of this interaction. Hopefully, you would find a new place in your heart to forgive.

What I've found to be the hardest, though, are the situations in which I realize long after the fact I hurt someone, and that person is long gone--whether it is by address change or death. Or maybe that actual person simply isn't equipped to forgive me, and never will be--won't speak to me, has hung up the phone on me, has washed me from his/her life. Or maybe it's the recognition I hurt many people and might not even have known who they all ARE. Or maybe my sin is simply an attitude that needs to be changed--an attitude that pours out of me and puts a mild toxin everywhere I go, almost imperceptibly. There is no human being to ask forgiveness for an attitude, or else I'd just have to apologize to the entire world.

It's precisely those situations, in my opinion, that this rite was designed. The simple fact of human nature is we desire a human face to look at us with forgiveness, a person to touch us. Nothing is like being forgiven by "someone with skin on."

Our rubrics don't even require a priest. There is a concluding paragraph on page 452 of the BCP that a deacon or lay person can recite as a reminder that God has forgiven us. I wonder sometimes, when we have divisions within the church, how our lives would change if we sat down and actually did this rite with each other instead of a half-hearted, edgy, "sorry," and a weak handshake. How would it change our concepts of reconciliation if we made this process about Jesus, instead of about us?

The last time I did the rite is the one that sticks out in my mind for two reasons. One is because at the point where the priest is to either lay a hand on the penitent's head or extend a hand to the penitent, it wasn't just a weak trivial gesture. She laid her hand on my head as stretched out as she could get it and truly pressed against my head. I probably value my mind more than any other body part I own. It felt like a real forgiveness of my mind. The other was I was offered the Eucharist following the rite, and we had a little sit-down Eucharist with a slightly too big piece of bread, and we actually sat and talked and shared the cup and chewed on the bread, almost like a little "Sacramental happy hour." It felt like what I had before me in terms of repentance was all "do-able." When Lent rolls around, I'd like to do it that way again.

I invite you to sit down and read the rubric sometime. It starts on p. 447 in the BCP. Hear the words, read the rubric, and think it over. Try it, if you think it fits. But at the very least, it's worth a read.

3 comments:

Bonus points for referencing chometz!

Although I appreciate the voluntary nature of it, I wish reconciliation of a penitent was one of those things more of us did. I think many misunderstand it, as if it is to replace personal confession or gives a higher level of forgiveness instead of seeing it as a facilitator for self-examination.

And as for the sacramental happy hour, I am totally filing that one for future use.

Exactly. There is always a lot of self-examination before entering the rite, as well as during and after. Prior to showing up for it, I have to think really hard about, "What EXACTLY is it that is toxic for me about this situation? What part is simply guilt speaking to me, and what part is really the part that needs to be changed in my life? Can I really put this behind me, or am I going to drag it back from the dead, like some kind of zombie?"

What I really liked about the sacramental happy hour concept is it added a "restoration" aspect to the process for me. Kind of like, "Ok, you've examined yourself and found yourself lacking. Here's where you have to go with this now. But before you go out and do the work, let's share this holy meal. Let's be fortified for the work ahead. Let's share a couple of stories over this bread and wine and remember our own humanity in all of this."

You're right--it IS something that should become more of a habit in our life within the church, simply because self-examination is a part of the spiritual growth process, and we shouldn't fear it.

You got it. I think sometime I need to teach a class on reconciliation/confession for people who think they have no need of it. So many people seem to flat-out misunderstand it and still more are scared of what might happen.

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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