Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us,
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
All pray in silence.
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen.
You know those mental snapshots of childhood, when for some reason your memory captures a moment in stunning clarity? A few of mine occurred in church—not surprising, given how much time I spent there growing up. One such image was sparked by confusion and frustration over the Prayer of Confession.
The emotional anchor for this particular snapshot was the repetitiveness of this ritual. While there were a few variations, the theme of the Confession remained remarkably constant: Dear God, we messed up. Again. We promise—again—that we’ll do better next time. The same apologies, the same promises. Again and again and again.
With the simplistic logic of childhood, I wondered: Why do we keep apologizing to God? Why don’t we just stop doing whatever it is we’re doing wrong, or at least stop repeating the same old lines? Are we even trying? Do we think God’s an overindulgent or absent-minded father figure who won’t be upset that we’re just feeding him the same old pseudo-apology? “Father figure” indeed: even as a kid, I knew I couldn’t get away with that sort of thing with my earthly parents.
Imagine my surprise, then, many years later, at discovering the following chant of repentance at the Austin Zen Center:
All my ancient twisted karma,
From beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
Borne through body, speech and mind,
I now fully avow.
Granted, this is typically chanted only once per month, at a special service. And I do prefer the straightforwardness of not apologizing to a particular being, asking his forgiveness for the sake of his son, our friend. Still, “body, speech and mind” sounds an awful lot like “thought, word, and deed.” So here we are once more, trapped in an endless, predictable cycle of messing up, taking responsibility even while knowing that we will soon mess up again.
However, the more I study Zen the more I’m coming to appreciate the nuances of repentance. Continue reading