Monday, July 12, 2010

Meditations on the General Confession, Part I: Introduction

Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

The General Confession from The Book of Common Prayer

Fans of the The Princess Bride will remember this scene: Inigo Montoya, having been defeated by the Man in Black in the duel by the Cliffs of Insanity, is back on the outskirts of Florin City, drunk, resisting the Brute Squad's efforts to get him to leave town. "I will not be moved," he says. "Vizzini said when a job went wrong you went back to the beginning. Well, this is where I got the job. So it is the beginning. . . I am waiting for Vizzini."

In the Anglican prayer book, the orders both for morning and evening prayer start with the General Confession. So it is the beginning. It is, however, the beginning in more than that obvious way. When a job goes wrong -- which it does, to a greater or lesser extent, every day -- it is the place to go to be reminded of, and corrected and strengthened by, basic truths: about God, about ourselves, about our need. In just these few words, all the purpose of the Lenten season is manifest. So it will be the primary object upon which I meditate in these upcoming weeks.

A brief word to any readers before I begin: I am not distinguished by any particular skill in reading or parsing sentences, less so by skill in actually living in a manner which reflects and honors Jesus. I hold no teaching office in the Church, and have no inherent authority gained by virtue of advances in learning and holiness. These reflections are the notes of a student, taken first for his own benefit, posted here in the hope they may be some help to fellow students. Whatever value the notes have is a happy reflection of the fact that the General Confession is the beginning, and it doesn't take much progress to reach the beginning -- only the progress of turning around after you've gone off in the wrong direction.

The confession begins by addressing God: "Almighty and most merciful Father." Those five words cannot be skated over quickly. If they are not true, the rest of the confession is of no value whatever. If any of them is untrue, then eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

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