Today is Ash Wednesday, and I am off to confession this morning so I can start the season reconciled. I was thinking I would compose a note to the priest and roll it up like a cigar and shove it between the grating. Just to see if it would go over. Here's my note:
"Dear Monsignor, I did everything bad I could do except kill people. Calculate the maximum number of occurances possible in a year. Impose maximum penalty. Gracias."
A few of you have written to me to say that writing my once a week "sin" post is in poor taste, that I do harm to the concept by making light of it. That is not my intention, of course. My intention is to take a look at my week and notice what was bad about it. It is also my intention to encourage other people to care about right conduct but also to make people aware that bad conduct, even among believers, is maddeningly common. And also blogging presents an excellent forum for explanation. Confession provides no such thing.
You go in wanting to tell all your stories and explain all your challenges because secretly or not so secretly, you want the priest to say, "There, there. You have had a hard time. Here's a cookie for you. Run along."
But that is not what it is about. The explanation doesn't matter. What you need to say and what he needs to hear is the flat, ordinary, ugly total of your failures. Not the why, but the what. And that, although it's very itchy and uncomfortable, is the also its great benefit. It divorces you from your string of excuses and forces you to see results. Even successes, if you have any, are often attributable not to virtue but some other cause. *
I have rarely made it through confession without hyperventilating and biting a hole through my hand. What I want to say is "The word 'fuck' is featured in 54.536434% of all my utterances. I rarely compose a thought that does not include obscenity. But this is because you, Jesus, made me very intelligent and sensitive and I therefore have need of giving voice to the coloration of my very special refined and exalted fucking feelings. Oops. Perhaps what I meant was you should have given me less personality. If you had wanted me to be dull and ordinary you could have made me a stupid and ordinary person. What's that?? I am ordinary? You mean only my disgusting tendency to swear is truly remarkable??? Well, what do YOU know? Oh dammit. I forgot. You know everything. Could you please then make my thoughts and feelings less exciting? Oh wait..."
You see how this goes? Much better to just say "I swear every chance I get."
Oh and you are right if you are thinking, "Nina, bad language is the least of your problems."
Here's another thing that makes me uneasy and cannot be expressed in any dignified way: my lying. What I want to say is "I lied to my boss because she drives me crazy and has no understanding whatsoever of the special challenges involved with my job. If she had my job she would be similarly bored, miserable and desperate and she, too, would do only enough to avoid getting fired. Obviously. Because this job that pays me a full time salary for 5 hours a week is TORTURE!"
And of course, when the word torture is mentioned, not even I can pretend I don't know what is really meant by the word. Certainly not the gross indignity of having to work 5 hours a week to collect a 40 hour paycheck.
So you see.
And so do I. Which is why I maintain, despite the displeasure of all my dear friends who are Baptist and Jewish or Muslim or Pentacostalist - confession is a terrible, awful, very bad, perfect thing.
And by the time you see me again, I will have tried to accomplish it with something like dignity. (Impossible). Nevertheless, I will have tried.
* Take, for example, my celibacy. It would be a victory indeed if I could attribute it to love of the law. But it not attributable to the law. It is due to my fear of being vulnerable. Fuck. Oh wait. Not fuck. I meant... oh well... yeah. Etc.