The Art of Confession

Last January, I was a bit put out to discover that one of my instructors had placed her book order through a small local bookstore, rather than using the bookstore on campus. I had to find it, go out of my way, take a side-trip. And Lord KNOWS, I am way to busy for that kind of thing, right? Well, I was wrong. That was one of the best inconveniences I have ever been privileged to have foisted upon me.

First, one of the books I needed wasn’t in, but it was due on the truck that afternoon. But I had stuff to do, and couldn’t afford to waste time waiting. But I could just do my computer work….except that I hadn’t brought my computer with me that day. So, the owner lent me hers. Luckily, I had the files I needed on a thumb drive in my pocket. And they offered me tea and a cupcake, too. If you ever have an hour or so to spend in Wilmington, I heartily recommend you spend a few minutes at Pomegranate Books. Tell them that crazy lady sent you, the one who camped in their shop for several hours last January.

Secondly, this book store is not a maze. They are small, but they stock some very cool books by small publishers. And I, errr, picked up a few things, aside from my textbooks, and one of those things was a book by Paul Wilkes, called The Art of Confession: Renewing Yourself Through the Practice of Honesty. Come to find out, he’s a local author, and when I finally opened the book this morning, I discovered that I am the proud owner of an inscribed first edition. Yes, I did say this morning, and I am already writing a review. It’s a small book, just 133 pages, but this book packs a 400 page wallop.

Wilkes isn’t preachy, but he has some very pertinent things to say about how we deal with ourselves and others, not only with our mouths, but also in our deeds and in our motivations. I will tell you up-front that he is a Catholic, but he is very clear in the book that he is talking about confession and not Confession.

I enjoyed the whole book, which starts with history, becomes philosophy and ends in practicality. But there were two main things that really resonate with me. The first was the section on guilt, and how we allow ourselves to become so weighted down with it that we have a hard time accepting love and grace. We are cruel to ourselves, because we allow guilt to control and dominate us, instead of using it as a tool to motivate change in our lives. Secondly, he gives some very practical tips on how we can practice more honest living by building moments of reflection into our lives. I’ve marked that whole section to read through and put into practice, by I was most struck by the ideas of the Metta Bhavana and An Adult Examination of Conscience.

Metta Bhavana is the cultivation of an attitude of lovingkindness toward everyone and everything. And not in a haphazard, whatever kind of way, but by calling specific individuals (ourselves, someone we treasure, a neutral person, someone we dislike, the universe) one at a time, and thinking of their safety, health, peace and welfare. If you’ve known me long at all, you know there have been some very unpleasant things in my life, things that hurt and anger me every time I think about them. Things that still make me feel cheated, make me feel less, make me feel an irrational and unjustified guilt. I’m thinking it’s going to be hard to feel all that negative stuff and also lovingkindness. And I am thinking all that negative stuff is a weight I just don’t need, and it’s time to move on to other, better stuff.

The Adult Examination of Conscience has us reflect on daily life, work, desires, inner life, physical well-being, loving, personal integrity, relationships, spiritual life, nature, and money/possessions. You don’t do this all at once, of course, who has time for that? The idea is to pick one area and really think deeply on it, and determine if your attitudes and actions need changing.

I really, really recommend this book. I wish I had about a dozen copies to give away. I don’t. I have ONE, and it’s going on my shelf of “read some daily” books. But find a copy, and read it. It took me less than 5 and a half hours, and that included a break to drive home, a conversation with a friend AND a nap. It’s a rather small investment of time for a book that could LITERALLY change the way you view yourself, your fellow humans and the world you walk in. In a day when many self-help books offer a faux window into the soul, this one has some very valid things to say about living in a mindful, self-examined way.

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