Prayers of confession for complex lives

1. Red wool/rope on cross

A ball of red woolAn invitation for everyone to tie a piece of red wool or red ribbon to thick ropes which are then thrown onto a sturdy large cross. Very little needs to be said as the symbol of Jesus bearing our mistakes/sins on the cross speaks very powerfully.

You will need: two or three large thick ropes as long as a row of chairs (or you could use skipping ropes), a sturdy large (over six foot) standalone cross, a 12 inch/30 cm length of red wool or ribbon for each person, music (optional).

Invite everyone to identify their piece of red wool or ribbon with something that has gone wrong or is broken. Spend some time in silence. You may wish to lead a meditation or lead prayers of confession from one of the many liturgical worship books or books containing anthologies of prayers. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Church of England, Common Worship, Church House Publishing, 2000;
  • Church of England, New Patterns For Worship, Church House Publishing, 2006;
  • Methodist Church of Great Britain and Ireland, The Methodist Service Worship Book, Methodist House Publishing, 1999;
  • Northumbria Community, Celtic Daily Prayer, HarperOne, 2002;
  • Wild Goose Worship Group, A Wee Worship Book, Wild Goose Publications, 1999;
  • Angela Ashwin, The Book of a Thousand Prayers, Zondervan, 2002.

Then, invite people to tie their piece of red wool or ribbon creatively anywhere along the long ropes passed back a row at a time (some plait them, some make lots of knots, some wind them round). When all have tied their red wool or ribbon onto the rope, the leader then lovingly and carefully throws the ropes now strewn with bits of red wool or ribbon onto the standalone cross (make sure the cross is capable of taking the weight of the ropes).

Share some prayers together or you could use this:

Leader: All our problems?
All: We send to the cross of Christ
All our sins?
We send to the cross of Christ
All the devil's works?
We send to the cross of Christ
All our hopes?
We set on the risen Christ.

(from the Kenyan Rite)

There is something quite profound about the lengths of red wool or ribbon attached to the rope as they look like spiky thorns and symbolise the pain and consequences of our mistakes or sins that Jesus bore for us on the cross. Very little needs to be said as the symbol speaks very powerfully.

With thanks to Canon Peter Craig-Wild for this idea.

2. The dirty mirror (based on the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7)

A mirror in a wooden frameUsing a mirror and lipstick, draw, write or colour a segment of the mirror with a simple picture or representation of something that has gone wrong or is broken - eg, a heart, or the name of someone you have fallen out with - then wipe the mirror clean with a cloth and glass cleaner.

More info

Although this works best with a small group, it can be used in a larger gathering as long as everyone can see the mirror.

You will need: a candle (a large fat/church candle works best, but make sure it is positioned safely), a mirror or mirror tile (again make sure that it cannot slip and break), a bright red or strong coloured lipstick, a cloth, a bottle of glass cleaner, music (optional). Practice first to make sure the glass cleaner you use will actually remove the lipstick from the mirror.

Light the candle and place the mirror where it reflects the light of the candle. Read Matthew 6.22 – Jesus said, 'The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.'

Explain that the mirror represents or symbolises ourselves and our lives, and the candle the light of Christ. Many of us may be finding it hard to see the light of Jesus' love at the moment. Maybe our eyes are tired or our eyesight is poor, with things getting in the way - eg, worries, doubts, fears, things we have said and done wrong or things we are feeling guilty about. Invite everyone in their own time to examine themselves in the mirror, see themselves as they are and then draw with the lipstick a very simple picture to represent something that has gone wrong or is broken - eg, a heart, the name of someone they have fallen out with, a tree for the state of the planet, and so on - or just colour in a segment of the mirror if they don't wish to write or draw. Use this opportunity to pray about those things that seem to get in the way of us seeing God clearly. Allow people plenty of time to come, maybe playing some appropriate instrumental music or songs during this time.

While someone reads Matthew 5.14-16 ('You are the light of the world...'), the leader cleans the mirror with a cloth and glass cleaner. Reassure one another, in whatever way is appropriate for your group, that God takes away all the things that are getting in the way of us seeing God's light and reflects his light so that others may see God working in us.

For more information and other creative ideas see Sue Wallace, Multi-Sensory Scripture, Scripture Union, 2005.

3. Scarlet and snow (based on Isaiah 1.18)

An expanse of snow'Though your sins will be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.' Invite everyone to write/draw a simple picture or representation of something that has gone wrong or is broken (eg, a heart, or the name of someone they have fallen out with) on a piece of red paper and then cover it with sweet smelling baby talc. This reminder of childhood innocence and bath times is poignant.

More info

Although this works best with a small group, it can be used in a larger gathering as long as everyone can see what's happening.

You will need: pieces of red paper or card, some larger sheets of paper (newspaper will do), pencils, talcum powder (preferably baby powder), music (optional).

Place the large pieces of paper in the centre of your group on the floor, lay the pieces of red paper or card on top, then read the excellent scarlet and snow script from Multi-Sensory Scripture by Sue Wallace.

As an introduction, explain that this is a creative confession prayer that gives an opportunity for us to be able to say sorry to God for anything that we are personally feeling guilty about, or a chance to apologise for the actions of our society and the part that we sometimes play in society's wrongdoings.

Read Isaiah 1.15b-17, then invite everyone to draw a very simple picture to represent something that has gone wrong or is broken - eg, a heart, the name of someone they have fallen out with, a tree for the state of the planet, and so on - or just colour in a segment of the red paper or card if you don't wish to write or draw.

While someone reads Isaiah 1.18-19 - 'Come, now let us reason together,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land...' - sprinkle the red pieces of paper/cards with the baby talc. The best thing about this is that you don't just see the red paper (symbolising our sins) being covered with the baby talc (symbolising God's mercy and forgiveness), you also get the wonderful smell. Often the room is filled with the fragrance of the talc which can remind people of childhood innocence and bath times, and this in turn might make us think of baptism and our sins being washed away.

For more information and other creative ideas see Sue Wallace, Multi-Sensory Scripture, Scripture Union, 2005.