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Confirmation

A small ray of light once fell upon my anguish. Confirmation was drawing near. We had learnt much and had memorised extra thoroughly the penitential Psalms. The day before the Confirmation we drove, according to the custom, to church for confession. I sat beside my parents shaking like a leaf and scarcely daring to breathe. The Pastor, dressed in his clerical gown, stood by the altar speaking deliberately and solemnly of our sins and the wrath of God. He impressed on us the fact that only he who confessed his sins would receive forgiveness – but added that we would have seriously to amend our ways. That was just what I longed to do – but how?

At the close of the address we all had to step up to the altar – all the candidates for confirmation, their parents, their brothers and sisters and whoever wanted ‘to go to Holy Communion’ the next day. O could hardly stand upright with fear and leant against the wall. The Pastor once more spoke of the danger of unpenitential confession. We then all knelt down, including the Pastor, and he prayed: ‘I, poor and wretched man, confess and lament before my God…’ With my whole heart I entered into that prayer. The minister now arose, turned towards us and asked, in the words of the liturgy. ‘Confess ye that ye are miserable sinners who have fully deserved God’s wrath and punishment? Then answer, ‘Yes.’ Each one replied with his own lips. ‘Regret ye your sins, believe ye and desire ye… mercy and forgiveness of all your sins…?’ We replied, as with one mouth, ‘Yes.’ ‘Will ye amend your ways…?’ My heart trembled …If only I knew how…

Now came from the altar these soothing and comforting words – I can never forget that hushed moment – ‘I, as an ordained minister of god…absolve you from all your sins…In the Name of the father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ And once more: ‘All your sins are pardoned, go in peace and henceforth sin no more.’

We arose, drew near to the altar and knelt once more, two by two. The minister laid his hand on one after another. ‘In the Name of God the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…’

We then returned to our seats and listened to the wonderful words of the Psalmist:

‘Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his Holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth Thy life from destruction…’

After that we sang ‘Jesus sinners does receive, and me too…

He has received, and opened heaven…’

At length confession was over. Quietly we all left the church but stood for a while outside the door. The men lit their short pipes and some of the young ones offered each other cigarettes. We boys ran to the ‘camp’ to fetch our horses and mules.

The sun was already sinking deep in the west and its light seemed, somehow, different today from other days. Could I perhaps fly? It seemed as if I could easily float over the tall grass. A great burden had fallen from my heart. I marvelled at that sweet feeling. My buoyant step had gained an amazing lightness. Had I been carrying it physically then? There was jubilation in my heart.

‘Go in peace….in peace.’

Old Vaalbok, already aged and a little stiff, received such an embrace as perhaps no mule had ever experienced. But he looked so stupid at my unexpected behaviour that I had to burst forth into joyous laughter!

On the way home father spoke of the next parish elections, of the church committee and of church finances. Mother answered only in monosyllables, quietly, her manner neither kind nor unkind. Within me it was like the roaring of many waters.

The next morning I awoke looking in vain for the exultant feeling of the evening before. But the joy was gone. When this came home to me I relapsed into bleak despondence. Futhermore, the new suit did not fit well and the mules, as I harnessed them, were stiff and lazy in the wintry cold. I felt utterly dejected. ‘Sin henceforth no more…’ the pastor had said. But this gloom surely indicated sin. My mother said so too.

Confirmation passed quietly and in accordance with the established order – but it hardly touched me. We went for the first time to the Lord’s table, and then it was all over. Each new member was given a confirmation text. Mine, which hung over my bed read: ‘I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.’