MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's time for "Faith Matters." That's the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. Today we want to look at confession, or should I say "The Art of Confession"? That's the title of a new book by Paul Wilkes. He is a Catholic, but he says this is a practice that people of all religious persuasions - and none - can benefit from.
And Paul Wilkes joins us now to talk about his latest book. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
PAUL WILKES: Thank you.
MARTIN: In the book, you point out that this is actually a confessional culture right now. You know, maybe a generation ago you wouldn't hear about – except, you know, through the neighborhood grapevine, things like alcoholism or problems that people were having, you know, in their marriages.
But now you say that people are ready and willing to confess every wrong and every guilty pleasure to anybody who will listen, on chat rooms, on TV. What's the difference between that kind of confession and the one that you suggest?
WILKES: Speaking of them, Michel, if you just stand in line at the supermarket, people talking on their cell phones. You'll hear more than you ever heard anywhere in the confessional 30 years ago.
I think the problem is, is that this is that kind of surface blurts that we go through about our lives, but there really isn't the deep reflection on who we are, what we are, why we're doing, what we like that we do and what we don't like what we do. It's very simple that you do not find the secret you or the deepest you or the best you in the supermarket line or on a chat room or Twittering.
You find that in the deepest recesses of your soul and that takes time and that's why I call this "The Art of Confession," not the big C in the Catholic church, confession, but a small C because the first confession is always to ourselves.
MARTIN: You said that confession can be understood as an emptying to make room for something better, and you said, as we will discuss, a continual practice of honesty. Talk a little bit about that.
WILKES: I think anybody that thinks about this realizes that when we have a burden on our souls, if we've been ugly to the people we work with, if we've been misappropriating funds, if we've been cheating on our wives, if we are continually in an angry state, that really isn't the best in us and it doesn't make us feel very good.
And confession, I think, allows us to release all that, to come into this wonderful light that is our soul. And sometimes we've just kind of varnished it over or we think we're - by blurting it out, it's doing something, but it isn't. We haven't really looked deeply into ourselves and we really haven't made the choice to do something different about our lives.
MARTIN: Well, you point out in the book that many religious traditions have a tradition of confession, but how do you get started if, number one, you don't belong to one of those religious traditions or for whatever reason you find - if you are one of those people who finds that that means that you have perhaps been taught within a religious tradition are lacking - what do you recommend?
WILKES: I have a motto that I've gotten from a great Dominican who said never let the church get in the way of your relationship with God. I believe that from the primeval days to 21st century, from New Age to Buddhism to Catholicism to Protestantism and Judaism, it's not so dissimilar. And here's a simple way.
Tonight, before you go to bed, kneel down beside your bed and just think about the day. The Jesuits call it consolations and desolations. Consolations means - when was I the best person I could be? When did I really do something? When I made that movement toward that coworker that I've been having problems with, or on the other hand, when I really sniped, I talked behind her back again. And just by acknowledging that to yourself, you automatically say, I want to do more of the first and less of the second.
If you happen to believe in God, as do I, I say, God, you know, kneel here beside me. Just be with me as I'm trying to reflect on this day and help me to be honest. I do it every night before I go to bed.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you that. Is this something that you recommend that you do every day and that you recommend that others do every day, as kind of a daily accounting?
WILKES: Look, if you play tennis once a year, you're going to have sore muscles. If you play tennis three times a week, you're not going to have sore muscles and it's going to - you're going to play a better game. I do it every day because I'm a sinful man every day. I do stupid things. I do arrogant things. I do impatient things on a daily basis. But unless I do it on a daily basis, these compound and then they become just part of the fabric of my life.
MARTIN: What about the idea of accountability from others, the community, from a spiritual leader? You know, as we know, this is a - we're living in a period where a lot of people have a lot of problems with authority and they're not interested in inviting any more into their lives, but other people do, you know, feel that really that only true accountability comes with community or with the presence of some kind of obedience to something outside of oneself. How do you address that?
WILKES: Well, I just gave a talk in Austin, Texas and a woman said that she has an accountability partner. That one person in your life who you can trust anything with, who isn't judgmental about you, who you really can have the best conversation about the deepest things - if you're accountable to another person, as you could be to the rabbi, minister or priest or therapist - this can be your accountability partner, which may not be your partner.
MARTIN: Why do you call the book "The Art of Confession"?
WILKES: This is not a dull knife or a heavy club that you beat yourself over the head with. This is an art to be practiced because sometimes you're supposed to go to people and say, I'm sorry I did this. Other times, the best way to do it is not to say anything to anybody else.
There isn't this kind of "Readers Digest 10 Easy Steps to Confession." Each person has to practice it as an art.
MARTIN: And before we let you go, what sparked this particular book? You're the author of a number of books on spirituality. Is there anything in particular that made you feel, you know, I really need to talk about this?
WILKES: Really, as I got more into it, I found out how shallow our confession is today and how we've lost that connection, not only with the purifying possibilities of confession, but we've lost touch with ourselves. And I think that we think that by sharing so much, we're so honest, whereas we're getting shallower and shallower and shallower. Take that little time tonight. As they used to say in the old commercials, try it, you'll like it. See what happens.
If it doesn't work for you, then goodbye, Paul Wilkes. But if it does, hello for the rest of my life.
MARTIN: OK. Paul Wilkes, as we said, is the author of many books on spirituality. Most recently, "The Art of Confession." He joined us from member station WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Paul Wilkes, thank you so much for speaking with us.
WILKES: My pleasure, Michel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.