Monday, December 20, 2010

A Confession About Confession and Notes On a Beautiful Homily

I've confessed before that I'm a Dorothy Parker sort of confessee: "Hate to go. Love having gone."  As I noted in this post, she wrote of her profession, "Hate to write. Love having written," and I think it applies perfectly and precisely to the sacrament of confession.

Who looks forward to going? Really? I "look forward" to it only in the same way that I look forward to going to the dentist, which is to say that I look forward to the day after having a cavity filled. But I don't relish the idea of actually parking myself in the dentist's chair, getting long needles stuck in my mouth, tasting nasty rinses, and hearing small, electrical things at work in places that were never meant to come into contact with electricity.

But I do relish pain relief.
The fresh start.
A voice in my head that says, "You messed up, but you took care of it. Now, quit sinning. And eat less sugar."

I relish the way in which, just as the priest is speaking the words of Absolution, I feel -- palpably, have you felt it? -- the release of weight. When I exhale, it's as if I've been loosed from an unwelcome anchor; I can float again.

And here ends the dental analogy. I like my dentist very much, but he can't do that for me.

So. I make myself go to confession regularly. Atticus does too, and we get the kids there regularly. And this weekend we hated to go, but we love having gone.

Now we're ready for Christmas.


And on the subject of being ready for Christmas, our pastor's perfectly lovely homily yesterday nudged us further along the road to readiness. Lean in to Grace, he urged us. Lean in to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Accept His challenges. Be conscious of our Lord's Transcendence and Immanence.  Which reminded me of this post of mine, from awhile back, which was also prompted by a great homily. (Isn't God good? I love the way He speaks through these men. When they cooperate with Him, it's like watching a flawlessly choreographed and executed dance, like immersion in the waves of a symphony. It's like -- no, it is -- a drenching in Grace.)

I won't make you click through -- I'll paste the old "Transcendence and Immanence" post below. And may you have a Grace-drenched, Confession-going, pain-relieving final week of Advent. "Lean in," as our pastor so rightly encouraged. Lean in. He's on His way.

He Is Transcendent and Immanent
(first posted in August, 2009)

I remember when I first learned about this idea -- that God is both transcendent (or above and beyond us, far beyond our grasp) and immanent (right here with us, next to us, running in and through us.)

As an atheist, I used to examine the concept of God and think that if God is so far beyond us that we can't even grasp what He's all about, what is the point of a "relationship" with Him? Relationships are supposed to be two-way streets, right?

Conversely, if all God amounted to was a spiritually squishy "He's in my heart" kind of feeling, then what sort of objective Supreme Being could He be? Not enough of one for my skeptical soul. If I were going to follow someone for the rest of my life, He had better be worth following. I've got some pretty great friends, but I wouldn't change my entire way of being for them.

The idea that God is fully and completely both transcendent and immanent finally brought it into focus for me. Grasping His simultaneous Transcendence and Immanence explained more not only about who God is, but about how He works. It explains the sacraments brilliantly ... through material things, God's Transcendence is brought into our world, used for our good and our salvation. His presence is immanent in water and oil, through vows and words and in what used to be bread and wine. He is both with us and beyond us.

And, it answers questions about prayer, too -- for me, it explains the strange way in which we can talk to a Being who is so far beyond our grasp that we can't fully conceive of who or what He is, but at the same time, feel Him right next to us and even within us.

But it also explains another thing about prayer, and that is how we can swing back and forth between those two extremes. The ideal is to have them both come together all the time in contemplative prayer, but most of us don't live with an ideal prayer life every day. Personally, I'm grateful for the times when it all comes together, and I hang on to them for dear life, because much of the time those consolations are all we've got.

But, I'm digressing, as usual. I wanted to mention a homily that a wonderful priest delivered yesterday. He talked about how familiar we can become with God -- we get into habits, we go to daily Mass, we go about our religious business, but soon we realize that we've been forgetting about God's glory and His majesty. We've been so focused on the immanence, the relationship, that we take His transcendence for granted, or we ignore it completely. Father exhorted us, in those times, to remember His glory -- to call on it ... remember Who He is.

This was such a beautiful and timely reminder, because I think anyone who's honest about her prayer life will admit that the pendulum swings. Sometimes I am fully focused on God's majesty and power -- I am overcome with awe and with gratitude (and, sometimes, tears). Other times, I am chatty and chummy with God -- and there's nothing wrong with that, in its way. If we don't embrace an intimate relationship with God, something may be lacking. I think it all comes together when we're fully focused on both sides of the coin -- basking in the bliss of God's immanence (though the analogy of lover/beloved is much more accurate than any sort of friendship analogy) while simultaneously grasping His Transcendent Glory is, I think, a little foretaste of heaven.

The problem comes when my familiar chattiness begins to take center stage, when I start thinking that I can call all the shots in this relationship.

It gets sticky and it's time for re-examination when I begin to take this stupendously, generously immanent God for granted, or take Him to task for the things I think He's not doing well enough in my life. Then it's time to step back and think about Who He really is. He's God, remember, Karen? His transcendent, inexplicable, powerful, stunning grandeur is capable of calling all the shots in the end, and He knows far better than I what I need.

Think about Who He really is.

When I remember and cling to His Transcendence, and simultaneously ask for and cling to His Immanence, He'll be faithful. He always is.

I'm the one I have to watch out for.


Skysaw said...

Love the Transcendence/Immanence post. So true!

Karen E. said...

Thanks, Skysaw! Hope you have a blessed Christmas!