I have been really lax in making my confession. For a period of time I was making my confession once every month, but it was a two-hour drive each way. I allowed the inconvenient distance to put time between my confessions. My last confession was just before Holy Week. Not good. Sin clogs the pipes. I am like a clogged sink when I wait too long. When I delay, things that should normally pass through my thoughts, feelings, actions, and prayers with grace get backed up. It becomes stagnant and foul.
That passive-aggressive comment that I would normally let pass through with compassion and understanding is now backed up and lingers. I can’t let it go. I obsess over it and let it grow into something it never should have been. Confession is the spiritual Drano. Instead of just pushing it through, confession pulls the obstructions out. It’s a forensic analysis. So that’s what was clogging me up. A former staff member used to say he could always tell when I made my confession, as I was far more pleasant to be around. 8 months of sludge has left me nearly stopped up. I’ve been irritable, suspicious, tired, etc. When people ask me what they should do for spiritual direction, I always counsel – confess your sins. Confession is spiritual direction as there is nothing else to help you see what’s really going on. Every time I emerge from the sacrament I always feel like Delmar after his baptism from O, Brother, Where Art Thou? “The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions!” I would need this today.
Since Christmas is just a few days away, I went closer to home, only about 40 minutes instead of two hours. It is not wise to have multiple confessors and this is not my intent. One should not shop around or avoid one, unless the confessor is indiscreet or truly not helpful.
The rain refused to stop all day, not even to take a breath. The afternoon was spent printing for this weekend and Christmas Eve and Day. We have two copier machines (one of the smartest things we’ve done) and I swear I heard them sigh at the end of the day. I felt like we should rub them down like a horse after a long day working cattle.
After Evening Prayer (O Clavis David) and Shrine Prayers, I gathered my things and headed to Finnigan’s Wake Pub downtown for my monthly Priest and a Rabbi event. Rabbi Mark Cohn and I have been doing this for six years (hard to believe). From September to May we meet at the pub and talk about everything under the sun, mainly drawing on what people want to hear. We’ve been stunned at the staying power of this event. We’ve had to add a second “seating” later in the evening and welcome around 80-100 people each month.
At the first session, Rabbi Mark talked about the origins of Hanukah and I talked about Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. We have dinner together and then we get ready for Round Two. It’s always a different kind of crowd and usually the topic is different from the earlier gathering, which I enjoy as it keeps us from getting too stale.
I don’t know how to do this, as I don’t want to share too much and thereby reveal too much, but I also need to share the story. Toward the end of the second session, a man joined the group and as we were wrapping up, started to challenge some of the statements being made. Challenge is not something we are afraid of, that’s exactly why we are there. Priest and a Rabbi is not an inter-faith effort at syncretism. At no point are we trying to suggest that the Rabbi and I share the same beliefs. We have much in common, but we also have significant disagreements on cosmic issues – namely, of course, Jesus Christ. If nothing else happens, I want people to see us disagree over the most important questions and still have dinner and genuinely love one another. That is something that is unfortunately missing from so much.
So we don’t mind challenge but we don’t take to belligerence. The challenges from the gentlemen became personal, and we quickly and as gracefully as we could, ended the session. It was time for it to end anyway. But the challenges didn’t. In the corner of the pub, the tenor of the exchange became elevated and was potentially close to getting out of hand. The Rabbi and I did our best to diffuse the conflict but some things couldn’t go unchallenged. I haven’t been in a physical fight since high school and all I could think was the morning headline: Priest and a Rabbi get in a fight in a pub.
And then almost as quickly as it started, it turned. I don’t remember what was said, if anything, that flipped the switch, but the pain from the man became clear. He had a rotten day and he was medicating that day with alcohol (none of this justifies behavior, mind you), and there was real pain. Challenge turn to counsel. Counsel turned to compassion. Compassion turned to charity.
He was embarrassed. Had he not realized what he was doing, he should be, I told him. But you do, and now all is well.
If this had happened the day before, I can only imagine my internal dialogue; it would not have been graceful. It would not have been charitable. Had this happened the day before, I don’t know what I would have said. Because the day before, my spiritual drain was clogged.
O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.
I left for home just after ten. The rain was athletic in its endurance. I didn’t care. I was a captive released from the prison and shadow of death. And I was hopeful that on this night, I wasn’t the only one.