By Ellie VerGowe
Lectionary reading for 3/26/2022: Psalm 32; Exodus 32:7-14; Luke 15:1-10
Selected passage for reflection: Psalm 32
Psalm 32, NRSV
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
I began to appreciate the practice of confession through singing in a choir. In college, I was part of a choir that would gather every day at noon under the tutelage of a brilliant director. This director would run us through our warm ups and take us through measures of each piece to perfect our harmonies, unify our vowels and solidify our tempo, trusting that each of us were doing our best to learn our parts to the best of our ability on our own time.
And he trusted, too, that we would know when we weren’t doing our best. Our director would not stop when someone sang a wrong note. Instead, he invited us to raise our hand when we knew we had sung a note out of place to own our mistake and tell him that we would work on it. Our choir director knew that confession was good for the whole of the choir and that confession was also good for our souls.
I’ve found that confession is good for souls at the hospital I work at, too. I get to meet with many veterans who have experienced the horrors and atrocities of war, and some who have also participated in committing them. I had the privilege of meeting with a veteran patient recently whose heart rate was spiking dangerously as he was having flashbacks to the worst day of his life in combat where he had followed orders and done unspeakable things. As we worked on meditative breathing together for his heart, he began telling me the stories of that day and admitted that before that moment, he hadn’t told these things to another soul. Through the course of his story and as we breathed in and out, side by side in his hospital room, his heart rate lowered. Tears poured down his face. He had been heard and was not left alone to carry his burden. He said he felt that his soul pain eased…just a bit.
This veteran’s vulnerable words did not change what had happened on that worst day of his life. There were still injustices that demanded to be righted. This brave man’s words did, however, begin to heal the moral injury that his soul had sustained. His words made him feel more comfortable beginning a conversation with God about what had happened and he could begin to believe that perhaps, God hadn’t left him, that God could love him too, that God could even offer him forgiveness. Our visit concluded with this man, my brother in Christ, thanking God for bringing him through such a horrific day and asking God to forgive him. He had been heard and he was not alone. He told me to share his story with anyone who needed it as his biggest longing was to bring peace, hope and love to people in this latter half of his life.
When we keep our moments of shame to ourselves alone and when we pretend it wasn’t us who sang that wrong note in the choir, causing the harmonies of creation to be discordant…when we keep silence, our bodies and souls waste away and groan all day long. God’s hand feels heavy upon us and our strength dries up (Psalm 32:3-4). When we hold our confessions in, shame begins to take over and tells us not only that we did something bad, but that we ourselves are bad at our very core.
It is terrifying to admit what we have done to God, to others and even to ourselves. It takes courage and strength. I don’t think it is as simplistic or easy as Psalm 32 makes it out to be either…we don’t confess and always immediately feel better. We don’t immediately feel forgiven and free. But perhaps, like our brother mentioned above, confession might begin that process.
Our shame can eat us alive when we are silent. What might God be inviting you to confess in God’s presence or in the presence of people who love you and will hold you tenderly?
Merciful God, would you give us courage (for that is what it takes!) to break our silence and confess the ways in which we have gone against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone? Allow us to see the ways that we have not loved you with our whole heart and not loved our neighbor as ourselves. Show us a safe place to share our soul wounds, our moral injuries with people who will treat us with love. Show us that you treat us with love.
May we feel your loving eye upon us and may we rejoice and sing like the forgiven people we are!
About the Author
Ellie VerGowe is a ACPE chaplain resident at the VA Puget Sound Hospital. Ellie is ordained with the Progressive Christian Alliance and is currently studying moral injury and trauma in her residency. Ellie feels honored to hear people’s stories and meet with them in moments of crisis. She lives in West Seattle on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people with her partner Aaron and their Australian shepherd puppy, Fiona. She loves hiking in the mountains, singing, painting and writing, eating good food with good people and reading a well written book on a rainy day with a cup of tea (Ellie is a grandmother at heart!).