I think if God's intent in commanding a Day of Atonement had been realized, there would be a day where all people around the globe would stop and fast and pray to know how to "make things right" in themselves, their relationships and the world. God always intends the Good News for God's people to be the Good News of the whole earth. While it may sound like a day to avoid, the potential for real "turn arounds" is a gift of joy!
For example, this week, of all weeks, we can be mindful of the miracle of turn around. Syria indeed did a turn around by offering to destroy its weapons of mass destruction with the support of Russia. And the United States stepped back from the brink of more war and bombing. And thoughtful and prayerful debate continued about how not to rush into war but rather seek more sustaining solutions to evil and violence.
I have learned a lot this week about repentance from listening to and reading rabbis. Jews spend a month preparing for Yom Kippur, with intense introspection during the ten days following Rosh Hashana. A whole workbook can be found at Tikkun magazine, guiding the faithful in repentance or teshuvah, or what the Twelve Steps might call "a searching and fearless moral inventory."
Michael Sagan-Cohen, Leviathan, 1983
WE ARE JONAH by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
In Rabbi Eliezer's vision
Jonah entered the whale's mouth
as we enter a synagogue.
Light streamed in through its eyes.
Jonah approached the *bimah, the whale's head.
Show me wonders, he said, as though
his own life weren't a miracle.
The whale obliged, swimming down
to the foundation stone,
the navel of creation
fixed deep beneath the land.
Tsk tsk, chided the fish:
you're beneath God's temple --
you should pray.
Prayer requires stillness.
Running away had always been
so easy. Sitting silent
in self-judgment -- forget it!
But waves only churn the surface.
In the deep beneath the deep
Jonah was wholly present.
We all flee
from uncomfortable conversations
the drip of a hospital IV
the truths we don't want to own
the work we don't want to do.
Now we're in the belly of the whale,
someplace deep and strange.
God calls us to awareness:
to stand our ground
in the place where we are,
to do the workwhich needs doing.
To bring kindness and mercy
to those who are unlike us, [even our enemies. (nbl)]
Are we listening?
Today I muse on how the practice of a Day of Atonement shaped Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew. I am sure he learned the history, studying early texts in the Law on the practice of placing the sins of the community on a scapegoat (Leviticus 16) and later texts in the Prophets calling for a fast toward justice (Micah 6). The writer of Hebrews (see Hebrews 2-4) suggests that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection. takes on three roles: the role of the scape goat (carrying the sins of the world), the role of the priest (interceding for those sins and offering mercy), and the role of the prophet, holding out a "better covenant" relationship of at-one-ment (Hebrews 8) through his own law breaking hospitality, healing and hope.
|Jesus the great high priest|
So it seems that this whole repentance thing should be a mainstay of Christian worship and practice. But I confess, that the action of confession, as it typically takes place in my own worship experiences, does not hold a candle to my sense of the Jewish practices for the Days of Awe, these days of seeking oneness with God and God's world.
In order to picture what this process is like, the steps of a dance have evolved. Think! Ouch! Turn! Fix & 'Fess Up. The dance is based on the meaning of the Hebrew word, teshuvah, typically translated repentance. Here is how Rabbi Sharon Brous in an interview with Krista Tippett explains it:
It's return. It's literally returning to a right path. And, I mean, the whole Jewish notion of sin is you've just gone astray and you can turn it around. And, you know, the principle, the fundamental principles of teshuvah, of return, is that human beings have free will. We have the capacity to make great mistakes. And we have the capacity to turn it around.
As I tried to practice teshuvah this week, I have pictured myself doing the steps of a new dance.
#1 THINK! I can become away. "Hey, I am on the wrong path!" I suddenly look around, and it is clear that I have arrived at someplace where I don't want to be.
#2 OUCH! And looking closer, I see how being on the wrong path has consequences. To use a very mundane example, if I google all evening then I don't make those phone calls that my little inner voice is inviting me to make.
#3 TURN! And here's the Good News! By the same grace that allows me to see where I am "off" and feel for the others whom I am not loving, I have the grace and willingness to turn around. Take action. Need to stop the old (turn off the computer) and
#4 FIX -- begin the new (pick up the phone).
Inertia is a reality for me, however. The longer the old path has been trod, the longer it seems it takes to turn around. It took until almost sundown on the Saturday before the Sunday Day of Atonement worship service for me to make those phone calls that had been on my "to do list" for, well, weeks.
But, ah, the relief and satisfaction of those calls!
#5 'FESS UP I note how the "confession" in the Jewish process comes last, not first. All the steps must be taken before true confession is made to God. Demonstration of the turn around IS the confession of repentance, in life. Today, lighting a candle in worship was a small sign of a very small repentance.
The psalmist writes in Psalm 32 (NCV):
Happy is the person
whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person
whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.
When I kept things to myself,
I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long...
...Then I confessed my sins to you
and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, “I will confess my sins to the Lord,”
and you forgave my guilt.
The assurance we receive as Christians is that, through Christ, and his amazing grace, forgiving us "for we know not what we do," we are free from the destructive power and habits that forged our wrong path. We get to practice the new path, and get good at it, one day at a time. We find joy in doing the right thing and "repairing the world" one small tear at a time.
In this season on our globe of a Great Turning, teshuvah, the dance of repentance, is such a necessary wisdom. The steps of THINK! OUCH! TURN! FIX! 'FESS UP! are needed graces to see the road we are on -- cultural collapse and climate change -- the consequences of our greed, and the desire to change.
I take assurance from the writer of Hebrews 4:14-16:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Yes, this is a time of need. Blessed are you, YHWH our God, Ruler of the Universe...for the Jewish wisdom that has lightened my load this week.
ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam