Squawking and Balking at Ash Wednesday Confessions


I woke up to a winter wonderland. Again. I thought we lived in the Pacific Northwest, The Land of the Soggy Christmas and Foggy New Year? It’s nearly March for heaven’s sake!

But I love taking photographs of snow scenes, so I dove into my clothes, threw on my shoes and ran outside to catch the last of the early morning magic (which lasts until 9am on snowy mornings, only 7:30 on non-snowy mornings). I was first captivated by a flock of Goldfinches happily scratching through the feed I had tossed into the herb trough on my front porch. This flock usually stays at my mother’s house, I felt very blessed for the visit and stood still in the silence enjoying their gleeful seed crunching.

Slowly I became aware of an intrusion of noise coming from the air over head. “Squawk, squawk, squawk,” cried a lone crow as he flew. His call sounded complaining, irritated and bitter. As I snapped the picture (above), my mind snapped back to last night’s Ash Wednesday service. Last night, before the service, I was the complaining, irritated, bitter crow. I knew what was coming – confession.

If you are an Episcopalian, you know what I am talking about. For you non-Anglicans (and I’m a new to this church), let me explain.

The “Collect for the Day” sets the tone for the service:

“. . .Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness. . .”

We then read and sing of Christ’s sacrifice for us, of our unworthiness, of God’s mercy. We are admonished not to be boastful, not to display our giving or our fasting for all to see, and to remember that we are to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth. We are invited “to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

“Squawk, squawk, squawk,” says the very human and very proud soul of me. I have to do all that and not get to tell anyone of my holiness??

“Squawk, squawk, squawk,”but I fasted and I prayed and I put a few dollars into the collection plate.

“Squawk, squawk, squawk,”and now I have to confess to every sin the world ever thought of?? How is this even fair?

The “Litany of Penitence” comes next. It started out okay, I figured I could handle this, it’s about the same level of confession that we have every Sunday morning:

“Most holy and merciful Father: We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

Not too bad, right? And then I turned the page. Uh oh.

“We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

“We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.”

The “we” language helps to separate us a bit from the confession getting too personal. We can pretend that it is actually our neighbor who needs this particular confession of sin, not us.

But then it gets heavier, and seems to become more personal:

“We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,

“Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,

“Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves.”

At this point you could feel the room audibly quieten, dulled by the weight of our own realization of sin. But we aren’t done yet, there’s more:

“Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,

“Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

“Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

“For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

“For our waste and pollution of your creations, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

“Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;”

At that last line, all the weight that I had felt heaped on my head during the confession, with scenes and sights flashing before me of own sins, lifted and flew away as if with a breath.

Like magic.


~ by Kimberly Mason on February 26, 2009.

One Response to “Squawking and Balking at Ash Wednesday Confessions”

  1. I went to the morning Ash Wednesday service at my church (Church of our Saviour in Cincinnati). I had the same thoughts that you did during the confession. It’s a hard burden to realize that I am guilty of most of those items – even that very morning with some of them! I spent the service wondering what more I could do to help me stay focused during my daily life & work. And then after the service my Rector asked if I would consider being the Junior Warden. I grew up Southern Baptist & didn’t really know what that entailed. So I got on the web to do some research, which led me to you – I think that you’ll help me focus quite well! And I think I might take the gig. Seemed like an answer of some kind to be asked…

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