Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | December 1, 2008

Experiencing God – Part 1: Confession

Yes, Confession isn’t supposed to be the first part of experiencing God… but whenever you meet one of those Noia things… you never know… it just might end up handy. And come to think of it… seems we do something like this even before Baptism if the old noggin rightly recollects what passed by the eyes and ears last time. At any rate… found this particular excerpt from the second part of the lecture series: “Life as a Mystery” by Archimandrite Meletios Webber (full attribution follows) offered such insight into the mystery of confession as part of our experience of God, that couldn’t help but transcribe it as best as I might here for the benefit of those more pressed for time. And there’s of course a Part 2… if I can figure out  an end to “the really good stuff”… which I can’t because the whole lecture is just that good (go listen to the whole thing!)… but it should follow in a couple days.

We express our brokenness most clearly when we go to confession. Confession is to do with who we are on the very outskirts of the life of the Church. Confession assumes we that are excommunicated, that we are cutoff, that we are aliens in the Kingdom and it brings us from that place of alienation back into the fold.

So in our experience as Orthodox Christians, its not unusual then to experience both complete alienation, being outside the fold, and communion with the body and blood of Jesus which is so much within the fold that you can’t actually express how deeply that is within the center… on the same day. And then we can go the next day and we’re back outside again.

Orthodoxy has never been too keen on talking about ultimate goals. Western Christianity often talks about heaven and hell. Frankly Orthodoxy doesn’t talk about it very much at all. And salvation has a role to play in our hymnography, but it is not a theme which we talk about a great deal in our preaching. The question of “Have you been saved ?” or “Are you being saved?” is just not the right question for us.

We’re in a process of transformation and salvation depends on that transformation… changing ourselves. And if we’re absolutely determined to stay as we are, which of course the ego wants us to do because otherwise the ego isn’t in control, then this transformation doesn’t happen very easily.

But our brokenness is most experienced when we go to confession. And you can stand there in front of God… remember in our system the priest is there simply as a witness, he’s a bystander, you’re talking to God, and he’s there to listen and perhaps to give you some help, and he will be there as the agent of God then to read the prayer of forgiveness… but he’s not there to judge you… he doesn’t sit in judgment upon you… that belongs to a different theological system .

And when we can be completely honest in confession… when we can say this is who I am right now… not who I was yesterday, or who I want to be tomorrow, but who I am right now… then we are in a position to receive God’s forgiveness… because God says, “I know who you are. You don’t need to tell me.”

There’s something very, very important about the fact that God always wants to meet us where we are, and yet our egos always want to meet him where we want to be. “Not now”, says the ego, “please not now… anytime but now, anyplace but here. I want to wait until… I’ve graduated; I’ve got married; I’ve had three kids; I’ve got my second Cadillac; I’ve got the house on the hill… and then I’ll be ready. And God says, “No.” God says, “I love you with an intensity which you can only just imagine, but that love is destined for the person that you are, not for the person that you think you want to be. I love you just as you are.” And the ego says, “No! That can’t be! That can’t be! How can this possibly be? This is so horrid!” “No,” says God… “That’s the person I love.”

So if you happen to be lying drunk in the bottom of a ditch somewhere, God will find you there. Or if you’re in a hospital bed dying of AIDs, He will find you there. Whatever situation you’re in, that’s where God will meet you there. He wants to meet you in your brokenness He doesn’t want to meet you in some fantasy of false wholeness.

So we have to get really serious about our brokenness, but we don’t stop there. If we stop there, then we’re likely to fall into that victim-hood trap and that’s not where we want to be.

From there we’ve got to move on, and I’m going to use the second step of AA to illustrate this, and then to talk about Orthodox sources which help us understand that… and the second step is: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity”

It’s interesting in this case salvation and sanity are seen as the same sort of thing. We tend to think of illness as some sort of breakdown… as physical whereas in our whole life’s story our spiritual illness is more to do with a moral breakdown. That we have given the chances we’ve got and the choices we can make, we have made some bad choices. We’ve taken that which does not belong; we’ve acted with less than kindness to people; we’ve cheated; we’ve told untruths; and so on. This is the sickness that we need to be healed from and “Coming to believe that there’s a power outside ourselves that’s can restore us to sanity” is absolutely crucial to this purpose.

Transcribed from Fr. Meletios Webber’s lectures on “Life As A Mystery” from a seminar given at Sts. Constantine and Elena Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, Indiana in May of 2008, and available on Ancient Faith Radio.

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