Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Good Sad Distance, or Close the Screen Please

There are realities about repentance, forgiveness and conversion that the closed screen of Confession not only symbolizes but helps to foster within the operation of the sacrament. For one, there is the notion that sin cuts one off from God's grace, and so we remain outside as it were, or roomed in a sinful world of our own making and consent; not seeing Christ, but having been stagnating in our own sins. So it is when we confess. Jesus is there, very present, yet we confess our sins in repentance as one whose sins have cut one off, in varying degrees depending on the gravity of the sins, from God.

As humans who repent, we need our space as it were, to confess, repent and make reparation. The face-to-face way of open-screen confession (at least for this writer) suggests automatic reconciliation (as in the priest's absolution feels more like an afterthought rather than the moment of cleansing) and can obliterate the awareness of that insensible, invisible grace that transcends all situations.

There is a certain distance that Jesus preserves when He forgives through the Sacrament of Confession. It is not a distance that is cold; it is not a distance that distances; but it is a distance that goes only into proving the total intangibility of the grace of forgiveness, of cleansing, of being made whiter than snow.

It is the antithesis to the approach of cymbals and sounding brass. It is rather like the speed of light: distance is not annulled, but it does not by any means have any final sway or say.

This is by way of saying that the closed screen that once symbolizes how one has been cut off as it were, now becomes powerless in Christ's transcendent forgiveness, which is so transcendent it operates "right through walls".

Jesus does not make a show of His forgiveness. How could He?

One of the most immediately felt forms - and I believe there are infinite forms - of Christ's forgiveness and mercy is a special sense of what seems to feel like He is leaving you your personal space. But He has not just left you to your own space; He has opened up that personal space; He has become that personal space. He descends into your exile, becoming diffuse; His becoming diffuse being your very lifeblood. He exiles you from your exile and has you occupy the spatial freedom that is His own self and mercy. So it can be as though there is both distance and profound intimacy. His distance is without coldness; His intimacy is without cloying intrusiveness.

The transformation wrought on one in Confession can be likened to the transformation that occurs on the altar to the species of bread and wine. [I say "transformation" and not transubstantiation because I am making something more of a metaphorical/poetic comparison and do not want to get into theological mistakes; though what does take place on the altar is indeed transubstantiation and not just "transformation".]

The awareness of this transformation is heightened when the screen is there, closed. When the screen is not there, the awareness is lessened (Again, my personal experience). It is this way for the customs and observances and rituals that go into performing the liturgy of the church and her sacraments: if it doesn't heighten, it's not just then being status quo; it is failing.

This transformative experience in Confession is but the beginning of course; it is not a once for all deal. It is work, works, in cooperation with His mercy; continual, ongoing conversion, so that we do not abstract ourselves from our many foibles and faults and bad inclinations; our continuing habitual sins, which we rather benignly refer to as "struggles", while we are consenting to those foibles and faults and habitual sins. There is to be no compartmentalization; no dichotomy; no split personality. It is our pilgrimage, until this distance has been closed by purification; that distance which is sad, and part of our original sin and state, and yet necessary somehow: it is a good sad distance - and Christ doesn't want us to stagnate in it. Nor does He want us to be afraid of it, and thus try and tinker with it. He uses that distance. He wants us first to recognize it.

This good sad distance is nothing other than the trajectory of our life. Our life is at once a lot more beautiful than we know it, and a lot more rough hewn than we know it. Our life is not a potentialized photo album, with photos filling in their reserved empty places as we progress through time, while the album becomes accumulatively more substantial. Our life, our one, own, personal earthly life is unequivocal "rough matter" that is meant to be continually ordered; and our progression through time is to be at one with that ordering.

This realization is heightened with the closed screen: feel the swelter that your sins bring on; in proportion to it (or rather, out of proportion to it) Christ pours the coolness of His mercy; you will step upon your older self to rise.

"Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world, for my sake, will keep it for eternal life."

With the closed screen there is also a greater focus on the words that are confessed, and the words that are spoken by the priest. We know how visuals can take away from sound's power. With the screen, the words that the priest speaks to the penitent become very special; weighty; absorbable. With the closed screen, the ear naturally inclines to what the priest is telling the penitent. Likewise, the confession of the penitent becomes as singular words spoken into clear silence. The words spoken with the screen closed have a way of bringing the sins that are named out into the light.

The good sad distance closes, or is completely suspended, with our surrender, and without our pride trying to alter it.

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