Saturday, November 26, 2022

A Brief History of Sacramental Confession

    I started out this week wanting to say a little more about the sacrament of confession & reconciliation, and specifically the part where the priest gives you your "penance" -- traditionally assigning some prayers to be recited, a few Hail Marys or Our Fathers. Which seems to me to be kind of ... well, kind of beside the point. For a number of reasons. But my purpose isn't just to make fun of how not to do it. My point is to sift through a tradition whose meaning has faded through the centuries, in hopes of finding what is really needed, what is truly valuable for helping us to grow into people with healthy functioning consciences, and healthy relationships with God, with ourselves, and with one another.

    As usual, I got very quickly lost in the weeds of this, what seemed like a very manageably limited topic; i.e., the ritual penance part of the sacrament. So I've decided to back up another step and just give a quick run-down of how this sacrament came to be, historically. Just as background, without trying, for now, to evaluate or delve into the meaning or relevance of any of it for us today.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Confession, or Manifestation of Thoughts

     I have a confession: I almost never go to Confession. I mean, canon law only requires Catholics to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (as it's properly called) once a year, but I don't even go that often. I only do it when there's something really serious and sticky on my conscience. Which is rare -- and I think, more than anything, that's because I'm such a big believer in confession with a small “c”: frequent, thorough, routine confession, not necessarily to a priest (though my spiritual director happens to be one), and not limited to “sins.” It is a practice known in the monastic tradition as “manifestation of thoughts,” in chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Living Large

     This month, my awesome ADHD coach is teaching all about emotional regulation. Actually, most of what I've learned about my own emotions, I've learned from her before this present course began, and I think this is really the work I most need to do now. What I know about myself and emotions going in: I don't like them, I don't want them, I resist them, I stuff them, I ignore them, or sometimes I ruminate on them. And the result of all that is that I am ineffectual, I have no energy, I spin in circles, I putter and buffer and mutter and live a small, futile life. I don't want all that emotion, I dread opening up to it. And yet, it seems clear to me that this is what I have to learn to do in order to live fully, and in order to become a resource for others to learn to live fully.

Saturday, October 29, 2022


  Last week, I wrote about “changing my identity” in order to cure myself of gluttony. I gave the example of quitting smoking years ago, which involved an identity shift from a kind of edgy, cool, tough, cynical woman to one who was gentler, softer, more open. I was becoming a woman who was willing to tolerate nicotine cravings in order to stop doing herself harm. So, what aspects of my identity define me as a glutton? What kind of person might I be evolving into now? How does my attitude need to change?

Sunday, October 23, 2022

the devil you know

     Sometimes it seems impossible to turn good intentions into lasting change. New Year's resolutions rarely last. We usually fall off the wagon, gain the weight back, go shopping instead of saving or paying off debt. Abused women, when they've gotten free, often get into new relationships with new abusers. Big lottery winners go broke again before they know it. Why? Why do we go right back to the devil we know, even when we know damn well it's the devil? Even when we know it's going to hurt us just the same way it hurt last time, and every time before? 

Monday, October 17, 2022


    Well, so I said I would write about the approach of the ancient Christian monastic desert fathers & mothers to sin, starting this week with gluttony. But can I just stop here for a minute and acknowledge the weight of imposter syndrome on this? Because what do I know? I'm not a scholar of ancient Christian asceticism. And I'm not a very good practitioner of modern monastic asceticism, either. What I am is a glutton, honestly. Any moderate progress I made during my first 3 years as a hermit, I've lost during the last year of stress since I decided to move overseas. I have no credibility on this topic, least of all with myself. That said ... I do believe in this stuff! I believe in it enough to want to keep trying it myself, to try again to get on track.

    The desert monks did not expect to master the tendency to gluttony quickly, it is one of the most fundamental and fiercest of the struggles with the will we can face. So, I'm writing this for myself, to explore my own relationship with food and drink, informed by the teaching on gluttony from John Cassian's Institutes. Because failure doesn't mean impossibility. It's just the "error" part of "trial and error." Again, I have come to see self-flagellation as prideful, because beating myself up for my weaknesses implies that I thought I wasn't supposed to have any. I'm weak. I'm human. I fail. Piling drama on top of my failures distracts me from learning from them. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Monastic Mindfulness

    I've been promising to write about the ancient monastic approach to sin, and how it's different from the guilt, shame, and threats approach. So this goes back before St. Benedict, to the Egyptian "desert fathers and mothers" of the 3rd-4th century. To drastically oversimplify, it's pretty much Greek Stoic philosophy overlaid onto Coptic and Syriac Christian asceticism. The guy who seems to have been most responsible for developing this synthesis of different traditions is Evagrius Ponticus, a Greek who ran away to Jerusalem after a disastrous love affair with a married woman, and finally ended up among the Egyptian desert monastics. It was further refined and translated back to the European monastic movement by John Cassian, whose books of monastic Conferences and Institutes are cited in St. Benedict's Rule. It's Cassian's version that I've mostly read myself.