I went to confession on Saturday for the first time in two years. I almost walked out again when I saw that the priest was hearing confessions in the open, no confessional or screens. I have anxiety about a lot of things, but my social anxiety has often crippled me in even very enjoyable, positive interactions. It makes confession an agonizing, tearful, stammering, awkward ordeal.
I didn't turn around. Maybe I was tired enough to be a little reckless with myself, tired enough to feel the part of my exhaustion that is the weight of sin and brokenness pulling me down. I came into the church, and sat down and read over the provided examination of conscience, which was big on things like, "have I been active in addressing the injustices of our society" and "how do I show mercy to the world," and light on questions about how I treat individual people. It would be easy, I guess, to despair of "people in general" after reading a newspaper or any internet comment box. I don't always feel inclined to show mercy to the whole world, even if I knew what that meant.
I put the useless examination down, feeling my anxiety increase, and went to the bathroom to get some water. I took an Ativan from the pill case in my purse, and saw a pad of paper--a small notebook. I pulled it and a pen out and returned to my seat, making a list of the actions and words that haunt me with regret and shame.
And when I found myself in front of our new pastor--about to make my first personal impression on him via my sins, another reason for anxiety--I took out the sheets of paper and thrust them into his hands.
"I have an anxiety disorder and this is hard. I don't know if I'll get through all of this."
As this gentle man quietly eased me through my confession, this sacrament that calls the present to reconcile the past to the hoped-for future, the grip of anxiety eased a little bit and I remembered our new puppy, Brynn, watching to see what was expected of her, unencumbered by shame over her mistakes.
I thought of our patience with her, the advice the books give to make no fuss over the puddle on the floor but lead the dog away, cleaning up out of her sight and waiting for the next chance to guide her into success. I thought of my children, and how frustrating it is for me when one of them becomes too caught up in frustration over his mistakes to start moving towards remedying them, and how badly I want to guide and comfort rather than punish and discipline, because I love my children and want good for them and from them.
"God doesn't want to hurt you or take things away from you. It can feel like that. But if you spend time with Him in prayer, listening, and watching the way He works around you each day, you'll see He wants to make you whole," the priest told me before giving me absolution.
The next day I stood in the cold with our new puppy, watching her dig around in the snow and feeling the solid ground beneath me, holding me up whether I think about it or not, as I hold up my children, as God holds us all up in existence, and I realized that even this was a gift.
Whether or not I ever learn to love all dogs--or all mankind--it is in my reach to love the one in front of me, not only because she brings my loved ones joy, but for herself and the facet of goodness and Being that shines through her.. As Hopkins wrote,
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I can see and love the expression of God's goodness in our new puppy--surely I can learn to see and love the expression of Christ in my own being.
This is my daughter, on the left, snuggling Brynn while Pascal basks in puppy kisses.
"Aetheline, what happened? I thought you said you don't like dogs."
"I don't like dogs, Mama. But I like THIS dog."
Me too, kiddo.