Thursday, December 15, 2016


Today's boyhood memory is another one of my own:

by Peter Clothier

In view of the recent bar mitzvah post--and another one to follow shortly--I have been trying to remember something about my own confirmation, at about the same age. Alas, I remember very little. There must have been a bishop involved, the Bishop of St. Albans, and the ceremony was surely at my father's church. I think to remember a feeling of excitement, a sense of the importance of the occasion. But the only solid memory I retain is my father's gift to me: a leather-bound copy of St. Swithun's Prayer Book...

It was a solemn, reverential gift. I recall the feel of the soft leather of the purple binding and the thin, crisp pages, edged with gold. The front cover was embossed with a gold cross. My father explained how it should be used in preparation for confession; there was a whole section of the prayer book devoted to long lists of sins to be used as a guide to nudge the guilty conscience. As I recall, the lists were quite specific---no area of sin was left unmentioned--and my father urged an attentive reading of the contents before showing up in the confessional.

I did go to confession. My boarding school--the flagship of the Anglo-Catholic Woodward schools, founded in the 19th century--had an unusually large neo-gothic chapel that was placed prominently on a bluff overlooking the delta of the River Adur and the town of Shoreham, Sussex. The confessional box stood in one of the side aisles, and a short line outside would await the attentive ear of the school Chaplain.

My sins had mostly to do with the secretive acts committed--with some frequency, I have to say, in my case--by all boys when they reach the age of puberty. These I kept largely to myself, or covered up with a speedy generalization about wicked thoughts and deeds. There were others, less serious in my estimation, having to do with such things as envy, gluttony, pride, sloth, and so on. Many of these I invented, for the sake of having something to confess. And I knelt in the confessional and confessed with a kind of skeptical awe, for already I did not believe in this judgmental God and his religion. I did it because I did not wish to offend my father who, I thought, would hear of it from the school Chaplain if I did not show up.

But that book, I do recall. The weight of it in my hand, the print on its thin pages... Whatever happened to that little book, I wonder?

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