We want our confessions to take place in the dark.
We want dark confessional booths with screens between us and our confessor, whether that confessor is our God, our priest, our friends, our spouse, or ourselves. We want anonymity. We want our faces to be digitally obscured and our voices to be scrambled. And then, only then, might we freely confess our shortcomings, sins, failures, and regrets.
This doesn’t fit well with the image of walking in light and fellowship with one another found in 1 John 1. The picture we get there is not solitary and dark, but rather communal and light. Transparent and open. Free and unbound.
I recently had the opportunity to bodily engage with and reflect upon this kind of confession. This past month, there has been an art exhibit up in Durham, fittingly titled The Confessional. The artist (Carole Baker) was inspired by the story of the woman caught in adultery and facing execution (John 8). When Jesus encounters the woman and her accusers he disarms the situation by causing everyone present to reflect on their own sin.
There is no longer an accused and accuser. There is no longer condemnation and judgment, but rather truth and mercy. The dark/light divide has been broken down and Jesus has shed light on the whole scene.
The exhibit features a cumbersome, room-sized wooden crate. Stepping inside this “confessional booth,” you are surprised. Rather than darkness and privacy there are mirror-lined walls, a pile of stones, and the unavoidable scripture text, “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone," (Jn 8:7). Immediately you are forced to look yourself in the eyes. You see yourself from many angles. There are no shadows or corners where you can hide. It may sound creepy, but it became soothing. Cathartic. Sure there was a moment of startled unease, seeing yourself, again and again, with all your frowns and blemishes. But then there was a freedom, a comfort, and a curiosity.
The next phase of the exhibit was a sparse room with white walls. The only items in the room were a chair, a pitcher, a basin, and a towel. After confronting myself in the mirrored room, I was very convinced that the chair was not for me.
The towel, pitcher, and basin were.
Only by confronting and confessing my selfishness, am I able to embrace my identity as a servant.
I pray that we, as a community, recognize confession as a practice where we can move from darkness to light, loneliness to fellowship, and selfishness to service.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7)