In her book The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day writes about the sacrament of reconciliation: the Catholic practice of confessing sins to a priest. Day recalls the smell of burning wax and incense smoke, the narrow ledges of kneelers, the thick darkness that seemed to pulse with her heart. “’Going to confession is hard--‘she writes, ‘hard when you have sins to confess and hard when you haven't…I have sinned. These are my sins.’ That is all you are supposed to tell; not the sins of others, or your own virtues, but only your ugly, gray, drab, monotonous sins.”
I grew up going to confession, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, and although I’ve only gone to mass a couple times in the past six years, I still believe in speaking aloud the ways I’ve fallen short. I believe in peeling back skin to reveal brittle bone, in confessing, in the most difficult kinds of honesty, in the strength of laying myself bare before another person.
During my time at Holden Village I’ve hiked under a full moon and eaten oysters from Pike’s Place Market in the dining hall at one in the morning, I’ve toasted string-cheese over a campfire in Copper Basin, gone running around the second level loop after school with the sixth grade students I teach, and stared at stars so beautiful that I fell down in clumsy ice-crusted wonder. I’ve learned about the Palestinian non-violent resistance, written poems about veterans in Detroit, sworn about the oil boom in North Dakota while drinking bourbon with a dear friend, gotten pummeled in the face by sprout balls during PE class, and laughed till my belly cramped. Some days, I’ve used this place as a way to lean into the world, to live deeply, to envelope myself in everything and everyone this valley offers. Some days--but not always.
Some days I haven’t. Some days I’ve been boring, disengaged, judgmental, thoughtless, entitled, and fearful. This is not a Catholic church and I’m not kneeling in a confessional but if I were I would tell you it’s been nearly a decade since my last confession. I would say some mornings I walk to breakfast without looking up to note the way the sun strikes Buckskin Mountain, that often I struggle to sit next to strangers in the dining hall, and that although one of the things I love most about Holden is the life guests bring to our village, watching people leave this valley over and over again makes my heart hurt and some days, it’s easier to keep distance. I would tell you that some days I’d rather watch My So-Called Life reruns on DVD than stare at a blank screen, trying to write an essay or poem. I would concede my embarrassing lack of correspondence with friends and family outside Washington and voice my shame for the dozens of times I’ve seen somebody struggling and continued my own plod instead of pausing to extend empathy. I would confess that I fear the future, that despite the fact that so many of the people I admire most live with little, fail often, and risk much, some days what I long for is a kind of packaged life, a career that comes with a sense of purpose, an excellent benefits package, and enough salary to buy land to garden and a house with a porch where my books and I could live. I struggle to shed the sense of entitlement that can comes with education, to slough away the desire to move into a spot already made for someone like me: a teacher and a writer, who wants to facilitate community connections and spend her days outside.
I learned from Lisa that during Holy Week at Holden Village, we don’t get dismissed from church on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. The service ends without anyone telling us to “remember the poor,” “go in peace,” or “serve the living God.” Instead we file out without ceremony, after several minutes of staring at our neighbors, searching for permission to leave. Lisa explained that liturgically we don’t leave church between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, that’s why we all feel so tired. For those three days, we wait. We slog through spiritual transition. We strip the altar and wait for tulips and alleluias, for members of our community to transform our worship space, and for someone to finally tell us to leave church, to go forth into the world with hope in our hearts and mud on our shoes.
After living at Holden for almost two years, I’m in transition. One month from my departure date I’m waiting for responses from cover letters, waiting to hear back from job interviews, waiting to find out where my next home will be, to be sent forth in peace, to be blessed and dismissed by a community I love. During the winter on Thursdays we worship at the table and talk about hunger. I’m here, stripped down to my worries, confessing to you the ways I’ve fallen short, because I’m hungry for courage. I’m bound together by my desire to get to work re-creating my place in the world because I believe in the transformation that comes with living bravely and leaning in. I want the relentless engine in my chest to drive me forward with my eyes raised toward the mountains, my heart stored on my sleeve, and feet solid on sacred ground. I want to go in peace, stepping out into a risky, rugged, world that swallows me whole with each footfall.
(My first autumn here, a woman named Alex led a vespers where she had community members write down the things that stopped them from shining. We then threw them in a bonfire that the Mavericks had built in the BBQ pit on the loading dock. She did this at the end of the autumn season before the first snow fell. For me, it marked a change: an acknowledgment of self, a shift to winter. Today, what I’m asking you to do is to take a moment to reflect on something you want to grow inside of you as the snow continues to melt. If you feel compelled, you can come forward and press a seed into one of the pots of dirt around the fire-ring. After about few moments, we will close with the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” on page 793)