Saturday, September 29, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 29, 2018 - Confession is Good for the Whole

It’s a mystery. Similar to the mysterious rituals of many organized religions in the world, the act of confession is considered one of the mysteries of the Roman Catholic faith. But the word mystery isn’t used in the Bible quite in the way it’s used today. The Biblical Greek word myst─ôrion means something which awaits understanding. I like that way of thinking. It implies that one day we will actually get it. It means God likely has faith in us, too. It indicates that someday perhaps some of the mysteries will be solved, or at the very least comprehended to a degree that we are able to make mindful use of them.
Psychology and science has helped us better understand some of the arcane traditions of many world religions. The Jewish practice of eating kosher, for instance, meaning to eat within the ancient dietary laws, often has health benefits which could not have been understood by those who first followed them. Islam as well. But since, according to their traditions, it was God who gave the rules to them, they were followed with or without comprehension. They were acceptable mysteries fulfilled as an act of faith. Blindly, one might say.
Still today many of these rules confound us, even anger us, when we feel coerced to fulfill them without understanding why. That’s the primary difference between modern and ancient practitioners of faith. We now expect buy-in. We expect to be told what they mean. We, for the most part, insist on knowing why these traditions exist and why we should live up to them before participating. Some perhaps consider this to be unfortunate. But if we seek to achieve a balance between the mysterious and the practical, we might find Goldilocks to be an excellent guide.
Of course many people follow religious traditions gladly without understanding an iota of their meaning or value. But even these would be greatly benefited by a bit more information. And not just for Jews, Muslims or Catholics, but the rest of us as well whose traditions stem from these elder faiths. Or those of us with no faith at all.
Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and many Protestant faiths contain a version of confession in their rituals. But not only religion. There is a secular practice called expressive writing which accomplishes ultimately the same goal: self-reflection through the act of expressing that which troubles us. Something I’d guess to be ultimately the crux of it all.
Get it off your chest. You’ll feel better. Ponder, meditate on and then take the time to express the things which keep you awake at night. Studies have shown that when we do this a number of things improve. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, we become more social in the weeks following an intense session of expressive writing. We subtly let our guards down and literally allow more love in.
With a healthy, formalized expression of our inner selves our sleep improves, our cardiovascular health improves, even our immune system functions better when we are not wasting our lives ruminating over the things which stress us out. Confessing, sharing and expressing our truth helps us to keep things in perspective. Putting our worries in words helps to shape them into more comprehensible sound bytes. This, ultimately, gives us something to work with; something tangible upon which to place our self-improvement efforts.
What I find most interesting to my own faith is that these practices were intuited by those who created the rituals in the first place. They didn’t have psychology degrees, nor did they perform case studies. Something inside them guided them to draft a religious practice that had far greater human benefits than they could have consciously perceived at the time. Who or what gave these ideas to them? That’s a mystery, too. At least in the sense that even if we believe it was God who gave it to them, there is no consensus on the nature or purpose of God. So we struggle with it.
But we need not struggle with the origins of what has been described as divine revelation. Let it go. Allow a bit of mystery to exist alongside our pragmatism, our skepticism, even our doubt. Make an assumption that spiritual practices we don’t understand may have value for us. Explore them. Try them out. If they make you feel better, keep doing them. Perhaps the answer to the question ‘Why?’ will become self-evident. at least to you. In the end, that’s all that matters.

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