Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Strength of the Confessing Soul

The ancient discipline of confession is a strange and mysterious practice that seems to inexplicably release energy of the spirit. Many may attempt to explain this using mere psychological terms and reasoning, but it would seem greater than that. Thus the conversation between myself and my priest/friend yesterday:

We sought to differentiate the sacramental from the merely sentimental.

In the conversation, we teased out the differences as residing primary in the "source" of the meaning ascribed to a symbol, object or practice. If a person is ascribing special meaning to it, that would fall under the sentimental category. However, sacramentalism is, at it's core, the belief that God is ascribing meaning to it; that he mysteriously has attached spiritual efficacy to the symbol, object or practice. We do not reverence the Cross in worship simply because it's a meaningful symbol to us. We instead believe that, through the replica of the Cross in worship, God is performing a tangible and spiritually vital work in our soul. Therefore, we reverence the Cross not because of a sentimental attachment to the symbol. We do so because of a sacramental belief in God's use of the symbol to effect change in us. This applies to any practice in Christian development and worship.

Likewise, the ancient discipline of confession has its place in this conversation as well. A sentimental view of confession may seek to view it in a primarily psychological light. Some may engage in this practice for reasons that explain it on primarily anthropological levels. All of the reasons offered may very well be valid, giving rise to the psychiatric profession and counseling vocations. Nevertheless, this is merely viewing a spiritual exercise through a sentimental lens.

On the other hand, the practice of confession can be just as validly seen (possibly more so) through a sacramental lens. The "magic" of connecting with a spiritual director, or "Soul Friend," regarding specific struggles, temptations and lessons of life would appear to involve the Holy Spirit in a specific way as well. Peculiar energy infuses the process of being transparent with a spiritual mentor/director. The soul is massaged and exercised. Spiritual fitness is encouraged. The health of the soul is assessed by the spiritual "Doctor," a diagnosis shared and a prescription given. How is it that anyone would seek to have their body known more by a medical doctor than their soul is known by a spiritual "doctor?"

I am learning the value in this, more than I have known it before. Surely the transparent soul, laid bare in confession, has a better chance of pursuing health and strength of spirit than the one hidden by itself. Through weakness I am made strong.

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