Yesterday I suggested that perhaps ‘Retreat’ is a misnomer, as is ‘withdrawl’, for in the Desert we as it were step much closer to the reality of things. Most especially for our purposes today we see more clearly the state of our own heart.
On day one I suggested that our mood for Lent ought to be one of Rich Joy, for it was as if we were facing surgery which in our heart of hearts we knew and wanted, however apprehensive we were of the process. Well today I would like to suggest a path which is offered us for a more radical and indeed swift surgery and deeper and more long lasting healing.
In the Church in the West, especially the Protestant Church we have taken the path of the Individual, and indeed many blogs on Lent and its meaning speak of it in terms as if we too were Jesus, walking alone into the desert for Lent. But we are not. We are the body of Christ. Lent is something which we do together (and not merely as a group of people following the same programme in isolation). Rather the significant disciplines of Lent, its deep journey is one we do with mutual companionship and love.
Although the distinction is not as clear cut as I am going to suggest, there IS a strong correlation between ‘Spiritual practices’ as we have been taught to understand them through a plethora of books, and Individualism.’Your Walk’, ‘Your Journey’, ‘Your sins’, ‘Your repentance’ (all in the singular)
Our brothers and sisters from the Eastern (Orthodox) Church, have a different apprehension. When they fast, they do it together, when they pray, they do it together, etc etc
Perhaps The most healing practise, and I speak from my own experience here as well of that of those few who have walked this path, is of Mutual Confession of sins. (As I write this I too feel more sharply the touch of the surgeons knife, seeking to do something more) God uses the whole body of Christ in our healing, and by and large we in the West have ignored that – perhaps because, especially amongst Protestant denominations, Pride gets in the way. Indeed in some sense it is the foundation of such churches. After all you can only go off and set up your own church if you think your understanding of church is somehow better than what appears to be on offer. Spiritual practices carried out alone, in many regards are the fruit of such Pride.
“Confess my sins to another?!!! I do not need to!!! – I have My personal relationship with God!!!” So Pride keeps us trapped, and sins do not heal and we come back week after week, or if you are like me, day after day, confessing over and over but without that deep healing, for in truth Pride has fooled us into thinking we do not need our brothers and sisters – we close the door on the Church, we close the door on Christ.
Pride does this. Pride closes the door of our hearts – leaving us only to hear that which we call ‘god’, the echo of our own deceit.
James, the brother of Jesus says ‘confess your sins to one another, that you may be healed’. Only one who has walked in this practise can know how much more powerful it is than the usual approach of saying them to ‘god’. For it is a healthful double edged sword:- There is the bringing of sin into the light, with the accompanying embodied forgiveness, which heals the effect of sin; And we lay down our pride.
This was a practise of the early church, it was the pracitse also of the Fathers. There is a lovely story about one Desert Father, an elder, visiting another more junior brother. The Elder enquired after the heart of the younger, who declared ‘all is well!’ After a pause, the elder confessed – I must say I have much trouble with thoughts of fornication. The younger quickly agreed that he too sinned in this way. The floodgate was opened and soon both the elder and younger were confessing to one another. The Elder, as it should be, laid down his pride. Confessed he was a sinner, named the sin, and the younger in the position of the one hearing the confession was able to share God’s forgiveness and also confess himself.
Perhaps this Lent we might experience the Rich Joy of mutual confession and forgiveness?
More anon . . .