In our lay-led services, we have discovered the cathartic and soul-stretching strength of closing our eyes and walking ourselves, together, through words of contrition. "I haven't been the person I want to be." "I could have been braver in that situation today." "I didn't act in good faith." "I found an excuse for my behavior or lack of action." Contrary to the assumption of many religious liberals, this is not wallowing in self-doubt or self-condemnation, it speaking from a place of aspiration and truth-telling.
We follow that with a long pause during which we can personally talk to ourselves, and/or to God. We think it's important to take time and not rush this. For our inner selves to truly feel the impact of honesty and contrition, takes more than glossing over words quickly.
As one of our worship collaborators points out, "Even when we do say we're sorry, we move so quickly into self-forgiveness that I wonder if the process is given the time it needs to go deeply into honesty and thereafter to heal through affirmation." Wise words.
To say we're sorry is not only honest, but also means we aspire to be our best selves.
It means we take responsibility.
To be grateful means we know we aren't in control -
we know we are lucky to be alive.
Following contrition, come words of affirmation: "We will try to do better." "We know that, in community, we can count on others to help us grow." "We find strength in sharing our burdens and rejoicing in each others gratitudes."
At the same token, we wish we would build more places into our lives and into worship to acknowledge the deep gratitude we feel for the gift of Life - in all it's messy manifestations of joy and sorrow.
A friend of mine recently shared that her son, a born UU, has been deeply effected by his contact with Catholic friends and now says grace before every meal. His parents were a bit taken aback, but see it as a sign that he is taking charge of his own spirituality. My first reaction is, "How sad that he didn't learn that habit in church." When we started saying grace before our common meal before our mid-week lay-led service, it was greeted by some with discomfort and a disparaging comment or two. We continued anyway and got quite used to it and it became second nature to those of us who made mid-week worship a part of our spiritual practice.
To carve out time in worship to allow for personal honesty - both contrition and gratitude - is risky, but so worth it. It's challenging to look into a mirror of our character and acknowledge what we see. It takes humility to admit that much of what we have or what we experience are gifts given to us by others or through Grace. Humility is a virtue we could all do well to embrace.