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Three Views: Why Confess Sins in Worship When It Seems So Rote?
Image: Illustration by James O’Brien

To Guide Us In Between

Kathleen Norris

The value of corporate confession comes simply from the fact that we are doing it with people—those we've been glad to share ministry with, and those we find more difficult to appreciate. A person in the next pew may have slighted us; we may have just learned that a person across the aisle was insulted by something we said. Corporate confession is a time to air it all out and reflect on our regrettable tendency to harm one another. It is a great equalizer, reminding us that we are all guilty of sinful actions and omissions, and that we all need forgiveness.

In his classic rule for monastic living, Benedict recommends that the community recite the Lord's Prayer together several times a day to help uproot the thorns of contention that spring up in community life. I believe that corporate confession on Sunday mornings can work in much the same way.

Of course, anyone can sleep walk through confession. You may begin to pray with good intentions, and may even be painfully conscious of having done something regrettable, when suddenly you are preoccupied with whether or not you took out the dinner rolls to thaw.

But I believe that saying the words—having them move through our breath and on our lips—has meaning in itself. Even if we don't pay close attention as we speak, the words become real for us. Our bodies will remember them. Later in the week, a phrase from that confession might come to mind when we most need it.

Much of worship works in this subliminal way. It engages our sensibilities in a way we do not fully understand. A line from a hymn, a passage from Scripture, or a sermon may seem to pass over us. Even if we feel an emotional tug, the ...

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December 2013

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