04/21/2015 08:41 am ET Updated Apr 21, 2015

The Power Of Confession

Giorgio Cosulich via Getty Images

I belong to a church that isn’t big enough to afford its own building, so we pay rent to another congregation and meet in their sanctuary in the evening. We’re the third group to hold a service in the room that day. The other renters, a group of Ghanian Christians, burn incense during their mid-day devotion. The musk of their worship hangs low in the air when we arrive.

We sing a few songs, then roll down creaky kneelers from the pews in front of us and settle onto them to confess our sins publicly. We don’t stand up and tell everyone we snapped at our spouse or drank too much last weekend or didn’t give money to the homeless man. Instead, we read a more generic written prayer together, then confess our specific sins silently.

I like this. I am on the hook for what I did, but nobody knows exactly what I’m ashamed of thinking or doing since last Sunday. Still, I’m chastened by the words printed on the bulletin I clutch while propped uncomfortably on my kneecaps: I have sinned against God “in thought, word, and deed,” by what I’ve both done and not done. “We are truly sorry,” I say with the others, “and we humbly repent.”

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