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CONFESSION

Bless you father, for you have sinned. We have never heard your confession. Please tell us your sins.

For better or worse I am a product of twelve years of Catholic school, thirteen if you include kindergarten. If I were still a Catholic now, I would steel myself for the chance to step into a confessional again and anonymously pose the above question to not one, not two, but three priests that I knew personally, that have recently been defrocked for having sexually abused minors. One targeted little girls the other two preferred young men.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have made it through school (relatively) unscathed as opposed to being one of their victims because I know others who did not fare as well.

Recently, someone I’ve known for a long time confessed to me that she had been sexually abused as a child. In her case, it was a nun and not a priest that had repeatedly abused her over the course of two years, and the effects were devastating to her. She had never told anyone about it not even her husband in all the years they’d been married, so watching her still be in so much pain, so many years later was gutwrenching and heartbreaking.

Questioning my religion was unheard of when I was growing up. You went to mass when you were told even if you’d just been the day before and or the day before that. You did not speak while being forced to perform the stations of the cross on Good Friday or you were going straight to hell. You remained silent throughout mass as you were told and you completed your sacraments as you were told and you confessed your sins as you were told as often as you were told.

It didn’t matter if you made them up because rest assured you had committed at least some small sin by the end of every day. Surely you could think of something to confess even if it was to reveal that you had thought badly of your brother and said something unkind to him.

From a very young age, it was ingrained in me I’d been born with a sinister soul disease attached to the marrow in my bones. The disease was that of being a sinner and confession was the only known cure. No matter how hard I tried to be a good girl and be kind to others and treat them as I would want to be treated, the underlying unwavering feeling that shadowed me throughout my childhood was that of being profoundly unworthy of my life in the eyes of God.

It’s a tough feeling to shake even all these years later since it became part of my DNA, having attached itself to the building blocks of my life.

Yet somehow, many years later after I had given birth to my children, I found that it was possible to pick at the sickly strands and pry them loose. I could detach my feelings of inherent unworthiness from my story and run them through the shredder if I chose to. So I chose to.

It was gradual at first. My husband and I stopped bringing our then young kids to church on Sundays which had the immediate effect of encouraging my defiance. It felt like a tiny victory of sorts taking back control of how I wanted to spend a Sunday morning with my two young, very impressionable children, and a hike together followed by a picnic didn’t require pulling teeth the way going to church had.

It was important to me to instill in them a sense of wonder at the world in all its manifestations, so I worked in conversations about what their idea of God was. The important distinction being that I asked them, I didn’t tell them. I did not want them to be dependent on the words of others; I wanted to instill in them a natural spirituality based on their own experiences.

I remember walking through a field with them one perfect afternoon when they were still quite young and having my son stop me in my tracks to ask if God was inside a salamander.

We were all holding hands but not for safety.

It was one of the rare times the word God was used between us since I was no longer comfortable with the term. It conjured the vengeful old man with the long white beard for me no matter how hard I tried for it not to so I tried to avoid it altogether, instead referring to the unknown as just that – the unknowable force.

So I told my son, yes, I do believe God is in that salamander. Later that year as winter approached I remember him informing me one day, that the snow was God’s blanket for the earth and I thought, yes, this is the kind of God I want my children to believe in.

But as the years passed by it was becoming more difficult to duck some rather pointed questions. I was running out of excuses about why I couldn’t make it to mass with the rest of the family on Easter, or Christmas, etc.

By this time my daughter was approaching the age she would be expected to make her first communion, and I found myself holding my breath, waiting for the dreaded question to be asked of me as to when she would.

Eventually, I came to grips with the fact that I would have to “go there” not only with my parents but my extremely religious mémère as well. I had put it off for as long as possible but knew it was a dreaded conversation I would have to have, so I went to visit her alone one day to confess.

Both of my grandfathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother had passed when I was five, so my mother’s mother, my mémère, was the only trusted elder I had in my life. I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her, but I had to be true to myself and not betray my own soul.

“To confess is to declare oneself ready for a more courageous road, one in which a previously defended identity might not only be shorn away, but be seen to be irrelevant, a distraction, a working delusion that kept us busy over the years and held us unaccountable to the real question.” David Whyte Consolations

By the time I had finished explaining myself we were hugging and laughing without a single tear shed. She was the epitome of grace as she sat quietly allowing me to speak my truth, occasionally nodding her head while keeping her lovely tan hands folded in her lap.

She knew I was in need of reassuring, so she told me it was okay. That everything would be okay. That who was she to question how I wanted to raise my kids and besides I was doing a wonderful job so far in her opinion. She explained how hard it was for her when her own son, my mother’s brother, left the church. She was devastated but in hindsight regretted that she had let his decision come between them and she wished she had it to do over. She assured me she would not make the same mistake again.

The relief I felt was instant, the fear I held in my heart evaporated like a puddle exposed to the hot sun while I was reduced to a puddle of tears the moment I left her.

It had gone so well that I decided to strike while the iron was hot. Next came telling my parents but regrettably, it did not go nearly as well.

“Freedom from deception may be the goal but no confession is without consequences.” David Whyte Consolations

This time the consequences of my confession were swift and cut to the bone. I essentially felt kicked out of the tribe. I was looked at with suspicion, urged to see the error of my ways and instructed to keep my children on the path of righteousness.

But it was too late.

We worshipped in the woods now.

Our cathedral was made of pines and hemlocks and mighty old oaks.

We were anointed by streams and rivers.

Our silent confessions were echoed by birdsong.

And the jack-in-the-pulpit now delivered our sermon.

It’s a sermon I wish more people would be open to hearing for it not only reminds us of who we are but who we are meant to be. There is nothing inherently better than another in nature; the bee doesn’t think itself better than the flower it is nourished by. Their relationship is reciprocal, a delicate dance of give and take, and it’s one we’d all do well to remember.

Not long after I had confessed to my parents, I had a dream. It was vivid and unusually easy to interpret, and its message was received loud and clear.

I was in a boat filled to capacity with my entire family, and all around us, there were hundreds of snakes in the water. I was excitedly pointing them out to everyone but quickly realized they were all too terrified to look.

So I jumped in. I didn’t hesitate. I waved at them all and dove in.

Once in the water, I urged them all to join me assuring everyone that there was nothing to be afraid of, but no one budged.

When I woke up, I was laughing, not from the joy I felt from swimming with so many snakes though it did feel pretty damn cool, but for the overwhelming welcoming feeling I had of being free.

“Confession implicitly calls for carrying on the journey newly alone, unaccompanied by the familiar company you have kept until now.” David Whyte Consolations

I have carried on with my journey, no longer alone but in the company of nature in all its glorious manifestations, grateful every day to be alive.

 

NEXT WEEK: COURAGE

 

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

2 Replies

  1. Linda

    Again, Amy, your writing is AMAZING!!!! So well done and so proud of you!!!

  2. Jeff

    Best yet! So proud! Love you!

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