The Confessional

Mar 25, 2020

A sensitive and precocious eight-year-old, I had a wicked sense of duplicity, my own and others. I had a sassy mouth and attitude. I sinned constantly. I went to confession a lot.

I knelt on the confessional pew, bare wood, knowing that the pressure of my small bony knees and body weight, insubstantial as it was, had made the little red light go on above the door to this small cubicle. Any Catholic would know the light meant don’t go in, don’t disturb, don’t approach, this is a zone of secrets.

Soon, the priest would finish hearing the confession of the person on the other side of his box in the middle and would open the small door to my compartment. It would be my turn to say, “Bless me father, for I have sinned.” I shivered in dread as I waited.

The penitent in the little box on the other side of the priest was crying. I could hear her confession. She was pouring out details about something called an “affair.” I couldn’t listen. It would be a sin to eavesdrop, another sin to confess and I already had too many. I had to find a way not to hear. I started to sing, out loud: “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy. A real doer, do or die!”

There was no light in my box, except for the sliver under the door. My hands were tented into a prayerful steeple, my little white rosary woven around them. My head, crowned by my curly strawberry-blonde hair was bowed in supplication before the small square window covered by a thick dark screen that separated me from the priest’s box, where he sat on his throne in long black robes. It was only a folding chair, but I thought of it as a throne.

My bright blue eyes were covered by translucent ivory eyelids. I wanted to put my fingers in my ears, but I dared not move a muscle. I could feel the little ring with the watermelon candy jewel you suck on encircling the middle finger of my right hand. It was probably a sin that I wore a candy ring into the confessional, but I hadn’t known what else to do with it. Maybe I should have laid it on the pew outside, but someone might have sat on it.

My sneaker-clad foot itched. The dark air of the small box, tinged by cedar incense, was suffocating.

“For God’s sake, shut up,” the priest said. “What’s wrong with you, singing in a confessional?” The wooden door on the window separating us banged open. The sound reverberated in the empty church. Father’s old voice was harsh, raspy. The smell of alcohol on his breath pushed me back. I had smelled it on the breath of adults before; I associated it with sadness. “Do priests drink, too? Are they sad sometimes?” I wondered.  A priest had yelled at me. I had committed another sin. I might be beyond this thing called redemption.

I rose and the pew creaked beneath me as the light above the door was extinguished. I fled the church and didn’t stop until I was 48 years old. Absolution would wait.

Absolution waited until I knew I wasn’t separate from the love at the center of the universe.

Absolution waited until I saw that love and forgiveness were forged sides of the same soul.

Absolution waited, unbroken and whole inside me, a GRACE I did not need to earn, freely given by Love.

Copyright 2020: Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D.

Linda Pettit, a retired counseling psychologist shares a spiritual understanding known as the 3 Principles with anyone searching for peace. As we move through the uncertainty and grief of the coronavirus pandemic, she is offering “A Time for Tenderness” consultations (45-minutes) to anyone for $25. To schedule, visit: https://schedulewiththedrspettit.as.me/time-for-tenderness