Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, "I dwell in the high and holy place and also with the one who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15
From Isaiah we hear the words of the Lord, lifting up the spirits of the humble, and giving life to the heart of the contrite. Humility and contrition are not big buzz-words out there in the media or popular culture, but we are most often impressed when we encounter someone who genuinely is humble and who lives that life. Recently, I had the opportunity to work with such a person on a project and it was a gift indeed. This person worked hard, and yet deflected attention away from herself to the other people in the group and through her actions and her presence we all began to adopt some aspect of her spirit of humility. Instead of worrying about who would get credit, or be anxious about status, we concentrated on completing the tasks, and also on lifting each other up along the way.
To be contrite is to long for atonement, to recognize and feel sorrow for what we have done wrong. Like humility, this is something that needs to grow from within us. Or, put better, this needs to be planted in us by the Spirit and then we have to somehow recognize it and allow it to grow. When many people talk about being humble and contrite it can sound like "fire and brimstone" and people can use guilt to inspire them. It is far better to open up the possibility that there is a blessed landscape open to us when we recognize that being humble (however hard that can be), and being contrite (even if it does not come naturally to us) are gifts to us.
In the Episcopal Church, we say the confession of sin in our worship. While many people get hung up on the topic of sin (and sin itself!) because of bad theology and bad preaching, the reality is that taking the time to reflect upon our lives and our failings is an important part of the spiritual life. Getting hung up on sin without recognizing God's gift of forgiveness is not helpful, but without going deep into "what we have done and what we have left undone" will not prove as fruitful or helpful.
In today's Daily Office this morning posted online (HERE) there was a longer confession of sin which is quite good, I've reposted it below. I pray that we all might cultivate humility and contrition so that we might be able to accept fully God's gift of the Kingdom of God.
~The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.
Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.
Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.