Compassionate Confessions

Feb 2, 2021

“Sometimes the best thing we can do … is talk honestly about being wrong.”
– Nadia Bolz-Weber

Some of you may be familiar with the American Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. I have been fortunate enough to hear her speak in Scotland in 2016 in Edinburgh and again in 2019 in Glasgow. In 2019 Nadia talked about the work she was doing around the theme of Confession, especially the potential for powerful healing and release to take place when someone was able to name and articulate something from their past which burdened them. As part of her ministry Nadia offered this space to people and then, in response, wrote them a personal, bespoke blessing which she sent to them sometime after their meeting.

 It would be hard to underestimate the impact this had on me. There are times when we struggle to leave our past in the past. We become so used to trailing all the faults and failings of our history permanently behind us like a ball and chain that we cannot live in the present for our constant dwelling in the past.

In my previous experience working within an institutional Christian Church I had far too many encounters with people who had been shamed and isolated by members of their church or their family because of some past action. The wounds ran deep. The wounds ensnared them. The wounds ate away at their very identity and sense of worthiness.

Coming from a Presbyterian background I had no tradition of priestly confession, but I certainly had accumulated a significant experience of sitting with and listening to people unburdening themselves. Again, coming from a Presbyterian background I had no tradition of suggesting an action that people might perform as a mark of their repentance and a sign of their absolution, but my OneSpirit training has inspired me with the power of ritual and waiting in the presence of the Divine.

So began Compassionate Confessions as one aspect of my interfaith ministry.

One way to help people shift their focus from a past, troublesome event towards the present, and even into the future is to provide a safe, hospitable and compassionate place where they can speak out their confessions without judgement. To be truly heard and truly seen from a place of compassion can help people find both a sense of relief – of getting things off their chest – and a sense of being able to be witnessed as they reflect on things that they have done and said in the past, and then letting go and moving on.

There is a Japanese tradition called Wabi-sabi which encourages people to find the beauty in the imperfections that are part of our life. Derived from Buddhist teachings, Wabi-sabi centres around discovering beauty in imperfections and incompleteness. It encourages us to be at peace with the transience, and the imperfect parts of our lives.

Wabi, is a word used to describe rustic simplicity or quietness. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies that can occur when anything is made or formed which, rather than being seen as a deformity or a negativity, these quirks are instead viewed as adding uniqueness and elegance.

 The word Sabi is used to describe the beauty or serenity that comes with age, where the life and history of an object can be seen in its patina and wear, or repairs.

And so you get the idea of flawed beauty – ‘Wabi-sabi’

Our journey through life leaves its mark upon us all. Some carry imperfections from our earliest formation – challenging childhoods, family relationships, instability. Some carry marks and injuries that are self-inflicted. Some are scarred by things done to us by life or by strangers or by those we thought we could trust. Some of us feel ‘different’, we don’t quite fit in and society seeks to label us ‘imperfect’. Yet for all the marks, and differences we might bear – we also carry the patina of our life, the colour of our journey, our history that has not destroyed us. The patina of our lives is ongoing, we are still journeying, we are not healed, but we are healing.

Compassionate Confessions offer sacred time as I sit with someone and together we reflect on the things they are not proud of. It offers sacred space and time for them to feel in their body, mind and spirit that they are a precious child of the universe, and they have permission to move on from past mistakes. In the days following our Compassionate Confession session, I craft a bespoke ceremony, recognising their journey, and striving towards their future. People can choose to have this ceremony facilitated by me, complete it with trusted friends, or do it on their own. They are in control.

In every one of these ceremonies, I have included a piece of sea glass and a poem by Bernadette Noll. Sea glass is the epitome of something that has been changed by its history, its journey – tumbled around in its life history, full imperfections but full of uniqueness and beauty.

I WANT TO AGE LIKE SEA GLASS
– BY BERNADETTE NOLL

I want to age like sea glass.

Smoothed by tides, not broken.

I want to ride the waves, go with the flow and feel the impact of the surging tides.

When I am caught between the rocks and a hard place, I will rest.

And when I am ready, I will catch a wave and let it carry me where I belong.

I want to be picked up and held gently by those who delight in my well-earned patina,

And appreciate the changes I went through to achieve this lustre.

I want to enjoy the journey and let my preciousness be, not in spite of the impacts,

But because of them.

I want to age like sea glass.

Linda Dunbar is OneSpirit Interfaith Minister, a Professional Supervisor and Educator based in central Scotland and Shetland, living out their vow to exercise radical, courageous hospitality to all.

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