‘We live in a confessional culture,” said Wilmington writer Paul Wilkes, “and I have to say I feel my skin crawling sometimes – at these online confessions, all the stuff on the cable shows, the comings out and goings in – how shallow it all seems.”
It’s ironic, Wilkes noted, since the sacrament of confession – or Reconciliation, as it’s generally known now – has all but collapsed within the Roman Catholic Church. In the 1960s, roughly half of American Catholics went to confession every week; today, fewer than 2 percent go to confession as often as once a year.
Which doesn’t surprise Wilkes. “People hated it,” said the author of more than a dozen books on spirituality and the spiritual memoir “In Due Season.” “It was a kind of voodoo – you recited this laundry list of things you did, the priest gave you some prayers to say, and you were healed, somehow. There was no insight, no change of heart.”
The book is already a selection of the One Spirit Book Club and has drawn blurbs from the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner (“There are insights here I will be incorporating into my own life”) and the spiritual writer Marianne Williamson (“It truly does enlighten and restore”).
Wilkes will give a reading and a book signing at 7 p.m. Thursday at Pomegranate Books, 4418 Park Ave.
The thing is, you don’t have to be Catholic to confess, he noted. Confession is a part of most Christian and many non-Christian traditions, and in “The Art of Confession,” Wilkes adds commentaries and sidebars from a “confessional chorus” from many different backgrounds.
“Chorus” writers include Rabbi Robert Waxman of Wilmington’s B’nai Israel Synagogue and psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Mathew of Wilmington’s Trinity Wellness Center.
“It’s not just a pillar of religious belief,” Wilkes said. “Confession is a part of mental health. You know, when you’re carrying around a secret with you, that’s a lot of weight to tote. When we’re unloaded, we feel better, happier and healthier.”
The problem with a lot of pop confession, he added, is “that it lacks what we Catholics call ‘the firm purpose of amendment.’ You have to say, “I’m going to try to do better.’ Notice I don’t say, ‘I’m GOING to do better.’ It’s more complicated than that.”
Thus, “The Art of Confession” – subtitled “Renewing Yourself Through the Practice of Honesty” – includes exercises for self-reflection and for steering oneself away from bad behaviors.