So there I was, visiting nearest and dearest in Nashville, when my friend, Caroline, who is Catholic, said she wanted to go to confession. As the church only offered confession once a month, she didn’t want to lose an opportunity to do so. I immediately got excited.
First of all, I love the idea of the confession. I am Jew, and I am also a firm believer that Jews should have confession. Confession is good for the soul. Plus, after you confess all that bothers and weighs on you, it would be great to be given ideas on what to do to make amends, the most important part of being contrite. Just to say you’re sorry isn’t enough. It’s your actions that follow the apology that matter the most. That, at least in theory, should be the most liberating part, the truest part of an apology.
I asked if it was possible for me to go to confession with my friend. Caroline shrugged and could think of no reason why it was forbidden. So off we went, to Caroline’s church.
Sure, it sounds like a joke, but what happens when a Jew goes to a confession?
Of course, I wanted the entire experience — you know, the brown wooden booth, entering the compartment, and that little sliding door inside that shows a dark mesh screen between me and the priest. Unfortunately, the church was going through renovation and construction. What actually happened was I got into a room that looked suspiciously like a classroom, with the priest sitting in one chair, facing away from me and towards the window, and another chair set up looking at a different wall, behind his back. When I explained that I wasn’t a Catholic, or even a Christian, but rather Jewish, the Father told me that he could not give me absolution, but he would love to help me if he could. This was good, because I wasn’t worried about the state of my soul, but rather that one state that held me in limbo more than any other. Of course I am talking about the state of Alabama. Just kidding, I’ve never been to Alabama. The state I am talking about is fear — fear of failure, fear of success and fear of everything between the two.
The good Father reminded me of a story of the Jews who were left behind as Moses went up to receive commandments from God. Moses was gone for a long time, so long, in fact, that the Jews began to feel forgotten and forsaken. He had led them out of the land of slavery, and left them on their own, with no directions, no instructions. What they did they feel? They felt great fear and they went back to what most had known in the land of Egypt — idols — so they built themselves a golden calf and began to worship it.
But Moses had not abandoned his people, he was busy carving words he heard from God onto tablets — obviously, a difficult, time-consuming task. He was fine and the people were fine. The people had feared and worried for nothing.
I got the message loud and clear. Just because you feel fear doesn’t mean that all is lost. What if nothing is wrong and your fear is based on that nothingness? It was an excellent example.
I let the priest’s words sink in. Only later, in fact, about two weeks later, I began to think something else about the Biblical story told by the priest.
What those recently-freed Jews also lacked was faith. Not necessarily lacking faith in Moses, although partially that, but also lacking faith in the very God that Moses was talking about. Because they lost faith in both, they began to create another god to worship, a god they could see and touch, a much less mysterious and much more understandable god. Their fear robbed them of their newly-found faith.
So what is fear except the lack of faith? And why did they lose their minds with their fear? I mean, these were the same people who had observed the miracles of the plagues that Moses’ God had wrought upon the Egyptians. They saw rivers of blood, day turn to night, and death rain down. They also saw the waters part, went through between the waters, got to the other side safely, saw their enemies drown, and saw the light of the Lord as it traveled ahead of them and with them. They were witnesses. God wasn’t some concept, some abstract idea; God was the wind that was felt, fire that warmed. They saw amazing things happening right in front of them and to them.
For that matter, those left behind weren’t the only ones. Moses himself, the prophet who walked and talked with God, wanted more — he wanted to see God. If Moses wanted more proof, what hope was there for the rest? For that matter, what hope is there for me?
Since I have no faith, I have only fear in its place. But I know something those ancients did not — no Moses is going to come down from the mountain to save me, or even to get angry were I to make a golden calf of my own. I am the only one who can save myself. So if I need a hero, I have to become my own damn hero. However, with the lack of faith, I also have the lack of courage.
What is stopping me from overcoming my fears? Someone recently asked me that, in a slightly different way. I answered, me. I am the only one stopping me. If I can overcome my own ego, my own resistance, I can start living the life I was meant to. If I can believe that I can gain faith, at least faith in myself, I won’t have to wait for some savior to come rescue me.
If I thought of it at the time, I would have asked the helpful priest that day in confession: “How do I do that? How do I overcome that fear?” But I didn’t. I simply thanked him for his help and walked out. I came up with the answer myself: “One step at a time.”