In this season of hope and expectation of deliverance, I saw a film about the power of confession within community. Words on Bathroom Walls tells the story of a young man named Adam diagnosed with schizophrenia during his senior year in high school and how he copes with this very difficult mental illness. He hears and sometimes sees characters and voices that severely distract and sometimes rip apart his soul. His first instinct is to try to pretend that he can hide it from friends and those beyond his immediate family circle. When that plan backfires, he is expelled from school for being too much of a danger to others. His mother and stepfather enroll him in a private Catholic school where he is given a second chance and encounters an extraordinary young lady named Maya whose love begins to chip away at his defensive and ultimately harmful facade.
Another surprising character challenges Adam’s secrecy in another way. The Catholic priest named Father Patrick meets Adam in an old fashioned (at least for post Vatican II Catholicism) confessional booth . The practice appears compulsory for the whole student body as Adam admits in his first session to a) never having made a confession and b) not really believing in God. The unflappable priest appears neither shocked nor overly concerned and begins the gentle prodding of soul that brings his penitent around to an amazing discovery.
The whole plot improves on one of my other favorite movies, A Beautiful Mind. In that 2001 retelling of the rise and fall of Princeton mathematician John Nash, the love of a woman also plays a role in healing his broken mind. But in this movie about healing, faith plays at least a dual role with love in the protagonist’s resolution of his problem. Adam asks Father Patrick about the point of retelling the confusing shards of memory to another person. Isn’t it best after all to keep one’s struggle private in a place that would not hurt others we love? The priest’s response to his idea opens his door to repentance. For he says that the desire for privacy keeps us from contact with those whose love is the very cure for our broken thoughts. The turning point of Adam’s confession and repentance lies precisely in his refusal to hide his weakness anymore from others and Adam’s deep humility leads him to a healing community.
In these days, when we are admonished stay home and stay safe, let us not seek safety in mere isolation, in the subtle pride that does not admit to others that we are weak and do not possess all the answers. But as Emmanuel, God with us, came to dwell in the very midst of our brokenness and did not settle for mere Tele-health solutions, may we learn how to take risky, even sacrificial moves to help and love our neighbors.
Blessed Advent to you all! Come Lord Jesus.