This week I have chosen to share a story that I wrote for an online creative writing class that I took this winter. The prompt for this story was that the story needed to involve a confession, and be told in a “stream of consciousness” manner. It was the kind of story that flowed from my fingertips, and it took me a little while to realize how it connected to me.
I cried when I figured it out.
The pain, the frustration, the weariness of trying to pray- that is what this story came out of.
And then some of my fellow classmates commented on the story, and said things like, “I understand,” and “I am journeying too.” These things helped (I’m a normal human! Yay!) and these things hurt (I feel guilty for not currently experiencing the JOY that following God is supposed to bring, and guiltier still because certainly it is my own fault that I am not experiencing that joy). I am still pondering these feelings.
But for now… here is my story.
My forty-five year-old knees hurt. I suppose that I have been kneeling for a long time now. Any second now, I will start to pray. Pray for real, I mean. I’ve had all these false starts.
Anyone? Anyone at all?
I am a terrible human being. I don’t know what to do about it, and I have exhausted myself.
I don’t know anything about prayer. Never have, and never will, at this rate. What am I doing here? I’m not even a Catholic. Every day on my way home from the hospital, I drive past this church, and in recent weeks, I started to feel the the urge to pull into the parking lot. To open the heavy doors and enter the still, quiet grace. I imagine the grace all trapped inside, swirling over and under pews and colliding with stained glass. That’s why things have been so hard out in the world, I guess.
For Pete’s sake, I got distracted again.
Focus, Thomas. Focus. Close your eyes. Deep breath.
I am tired. I don’t think that I have the strength to do this anymore. I don’t think that I have the strength to stop, either.
I try to imagine God being real, being a presence right there in the church with me. Wrapping me up. But all I feel is the stillness working its way into me until my body fairly hums with it. It works its way up my spine until I have to shiver. Am I being absorbed by the stillness, or am I disrupting it? I can’t tell. I shift uncomfortably, aware of the sound of my joints popping loudly in the silence of the church. It’s not just my mind that is having trouble submitting to prayer. My entire body seems to be resistant to it.
I know what I came in here to do. Every day, I feel my ugliness winding its way through me, loving me and destroying me. I’m going to give you a name and a face, I say to it. Maybe I’ll finally be able to get a grip on you and… I don’t know what would come next, but I am worn down from hiding.
I look down at the soft and wrinkled pamphlet in my sweaty hands. “How to Make a Good Confession.” I had found it on a table just inside the door. Praying isn’t going so well for me, but I think that I gave it a fair shot. I stiffly rise to my feet and head towards the confessional booth that I noticed on my way in.
I sit on the chair by the screen, fumbling as I try to open my pamphlet. I need to see the instructions for how to do this.
My throat feels scratchy. I clear it, before whispering (the pamphlet says to whisper), “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.” I hastily try to make the sign of the cross, but I don’t know if I am doing it right. Perhaps God will overlook that.
There is no response from the other side of the screen, so I determinedly barrel on. The pamphlet said to explain my sin briefly, and include how often I have committed it. “I accuse myself of the following sin. I… I do not love my wife. I do not want to be married to her anymore.” I do not love my wife. My wife who has given me three beautiful children and shared herself with me in every way. My wife who has cancer. My wife who has been in the hospital for the past few weeks. My wife who is unexpectedly recovering rather than dying. It would have been simpler, a more dignified end for everyone, if….
“I have committed this sin… for several years, now, I guess.” There is no pinpointing when something like this starts. I conclude, “I am sorry for this sin, and all the sins of my whole life.”
I wait. The pamphlet says that the priest would give me some prayers as penance, but there is nothing from the other side of the screen. I lean nearer and listen. Not even any breathing.
“Hello?” I finally dare to whisper. No response.
There’s no one over there. I almost laugh at myself, but my sin is still holding me too close.
What am I going to do, God? Is a person even allowed to pray about something like this? Something so selfish? Something that has no right answer? What am I going to do?
I stand up to leave. I’ve spent too much time here.
As I walk to my car, lost in my guilt, I nearly trip over a good-sized stick that the wind has brought down from a nearby tree. I stop and pick it up, intending to set it on the nearby grass so no other sinners trip on it.
Instead, I find myself walking back up the steps to the church with the stick. I open the door, and wedge the stick in, so that it holds the door open just a crack.
Maybe now some of that grace will be able to escape.
Maybe it will find its way to someone in need of it.