Finding Your Compass – My Reflections Around Confession

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

The concept of confession triggers a wide variety of emotional reactions. For many, it may trigger experiences of discomfort, shame, or embarrassment. Many may feel uncomfortable and vulnerable when disclosing their weaknesses; especially regarding those areas of their lives which are not usually discussed in the open and carry a degree of social taboo, such as sexuality or addiction.

Human beings have developed a multitude of defense mechanisms that strive to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their awareness of inner conflicts, painful emotions, and unfavorable thoughts about themselves and their loved ones.

For example, two popular defense mechanisms are rationalization and denial. Rationalization involves giving ourselves advantageous explanations for why we chose a particular behavior, to reduce our awareness of our negative motivations; while denial involves endeavoring to keep discomfort far from our awareness.

Considering that we usually strive to protect ourselves from experiencing inner discomfort and vulnerability, confession may seem awfully confronting, going against the grain of the comfort of our defenses.

When I think about the sacrament Confession, I envision the person of John the Baptist (even though for the Catholic Church this sacrament was officially established much later, after Jesus’ resurrection, as his apostles received the Holy Spirit “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23)).

In particular, I envision what this excerpt from Matthew 3:4-12 (NRSV) may have looked like:

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

John, popularly referred to as “a voice from the wilderness” implies to me a voice that is not influenced by the materialistic and ego-defensive aspects of our socialization/culture, but has a connection to the truth in which we stand before God, and uses love and truth as a guiding stick in thinking about his own self.

Furthermore, I find the concept of “wilderness” very appealing, especially at times when I long to be somewhere where I can quieten my thoughts about materialistic concerns, and my reactions to the noise and bustle of my environment, where I can get off the rollercoaster of business and slow down my thinking.

To me, John himself embodies my connection with the truth; I experience Advent as John’s summons to join him in the wilderness, to reflect on the state of my heart and conscience.

I often wonder how John engaged with people (certainly in the spirit of empathy, love, and compassion) so they found the courage to get past the comfort of their defense mechanisms and look at their reflection in the water, so to speak, to take an honest look at their strengths and shortcomings. I admire his ability to inspire people to straighten their paths, from tangles of rationalizations, confused priorities, distorted attitudes, regrettable behaviors, etc.

Each year when Advent comes around, John inspires me as well and reminds me to re-set my spiritual compass so that I don’t stray too far from the values that matter to me most.


The river Jordan is waiting for me—

a voice from the wilderness summons me through dreams.

Her valleys are haunted by a man dressed in rags,

his searching for truth is the river’s endless quest.

The river says it loud and the river says it straight—

they’re the lessons she hides in the courage of her waves.

I close my eyes gently and draw a deep breath,

as it’s time for my heart to immerse in her surf.

Let her currents and curls wash away former lives

in waters of forgiveness, in waters of love.

Let her currents of hope untangle tousled paths

and reflections on her surface stay as clear as glass.

The river says it loud and the river says it straight—

that’s the lessons she hides in the courage of her waves.

(“Jordan” is an excerpt from “A Christian Gift”)

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