Thursday, September 25, 2014

Open Wide ... (Part 1)

" #!%@$ ...  Is THAT all, Spock?  I thought Bones was dragging me off to the chaplain's regularly scheduled private confession! "

At another site, Fr. Mark Surburg compares the illogical reluctance to undergo a critical diagnostic testing ... illogical, because the procedure just might detect a serious disease, which could kill if left untreated ... with the self's natural reticence at being "fingered" as a sinner.   Fr. Surburg maintains that "the account of Matthew’s call confronts us with the necessity of confessing our own spiritual sickness," a conclusion with which this writer heartily concurs.
Certainly, St. Matthew's following of Christ, and his banqueting with the Lord, was tied to his Spirit-driven recognition of a desperate need for healing.  The chosen ex-revenuer fully accepted Christ's insight as to his calamitous state of health, and has not flinched from proclaiming the diagnosis peculiar to him, and its Cure, for millennia now. 

For the self to acknowledge ownership and give name to a specific sin, to another human being, is never an easy task.  It requires qualities of complete self-acceptance, true honesty, and courage; for we are all inbred narcissists at heart, seeking always to be (or at the least, to be seen as) gods.

But Christ has chosen to metaphorically portray our dire situation as one requiring the attention of a doctor.  And generally, the art and science of "medical physik" addresses the problems of but one suffering patient at a time, even when a whole gaggle of doc-lings is squawking on morning rounds.  Simultaneous mass healings and excisions are not the surgeon's forte, after all, because the sawbones is invariably equipped with only two hands. 

General confession has its place, of course; and it is expedient and well for Lutherans, in the preparatory portion of our communion with God, to emphasize to the eavesdropping Old Adam our fallen nature, and to sorrow about it, before we approach the ineffable holiness of God.  Luther Reed noted that among the Ordos of the Church universal, this ceremony is unique in its place and indeed, in its very existence.  It is highly appropriate ceremony for the Christians, who rightly assert that Emmanu-El deigns to bless them with His true Presence in the Divine Service setting.  The General Confession is solid testimony to a Gospel truth.

The ceremony's inherent diffusiveness, however, inevitably spreads the guilt and defangs the ugliness of personal sin.   It is probably one reason why Andreas Osiander, a fierce Gnesio-Lutheran, desired general confession to be abolished (he saw it as a deterrent to private confession, which he viewed as unquestionably Sacramental; cf. R.K. Rittger, "Private Confession in the German Reformation,"  In: Repentance in Christian Theology, p. 201, Liturgical Press, 2006).

I'd like to suggest that for the sensitive mind, especially, it leaves an unavoidable conflict between one's self-awareness and our social sense.  We trumpet our holiness through the act of a voluntary confessing of our sins to our neighbors, but at the same time we prefer not to name our sins' ugliness because of a blistering shame (or maybe it's just the practical time-restraints presented by a Lutheran worship service, setting/version/alternative whatever.  Right.  I treasure this clever rationalization, don't you?  So see ya in front of the 52 in. flat-screen for the NFL follies, promptly at kick-off.).   This situation constitutes a temptational set-up for psychological, if not spiritual, hypocrisy. The nakedness of the darkened human mind is sheltered, within the soft, covering bushes of Eden's pews.  But the inner shame of the unspeakable still remains, and that can fester in the depths of the unconscious and soul. How much better it is to find a fellow member of the human race, one who demonstrates an empathic and fully engaged ear to our woes and our failings;  who knows our temptations and who knows the worst, now, and yet cherishes us as redeemed and loved children of God? Who but the man, who stands by and in the stead of the God-man?  By this intimate sharing of the worst, with the representative Member of the human race, our conflicted self and our social status become miraculously restored.  What a relief this is and can be!

Blessed Martin Luther (from a sermon, 1522): "I will allow no one to take private confession from me and would not give it in exchange for all the wealth of the world. For I know what consolation and strength it has given me. No one can know what it can give,  unless he has struggled much and frequently with the devil.  I would have been strangled by the devil long ago if confession had not sustained me."

I am no Luther, and am at base a coward so often.  But I am like him in one respect:  the devil aggressively tries to strangle me and drag me off to a hell far worse than any colonoscopy.  And Dr. Luther has an antidote for this affliction.

Whether I choose to fill the prescription or not, is up to me.   But God help me to be brave, because I am so utterly spineless.

Next:  what a famous Lutheran clinical psychologist (and developer of the MMPI) once said about the necessity of a restored churchly private confession

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