Servetus and Earnest English asked how my Yom Kippur went after the hum-ho-ness of Rosh Hashanah. And the truth is that I enjoyed it much more than Rosh Hashanah! It somehow made more sense to me; I know how to do religious penance, while I don't really know how to welcome in the new year while also starting a period of penance, two things that seem like they should be separate to me. The ongoing mix of celebration and repentance in the Days of Awe confuses me; from Christianity, I’m used to a penitential season followed by a celebratory season with no overlap (Christmas follows Advent; Easter follows Lent). So wishing everyone a happy New Year in the very moment when our names are all being written or not written in the Book of Life, to be sealed ten days later, seems contradictory to me! I somehow want us to be penitent for ten days and then to have a happy New Year. So the pattern of the Days of Awe is something that I still need to get used to.
I have to confess that I didn't fast during Yom Kippur, which clearly made everything a lot more pleasant for me than for other folks! Fasting is not medically advisable for me -- I have enough spells of faintness and dizziness when I've eaten -- so I'm going to need to work out some way of "fasting" that doesn't involve not eating! The route I took was just not to eat anything indulgent or overly delicious, but I think there are more deliberate ways I could go about it in future years.
Other than fasting, penitence is far too easy for me, and I’ve spent years trying to stop thinking of myself as deeply sinful and fallen. So I had several responses to the penance of Yom Kippur:
(1) Something I reflected on a lot during the last few weeks is the theology that “the soul you have given me is pure” (said during morning prayers). This is very different from the Christian theology of fallen humanity. Even if most progressive Christians don’t necessarily take that theology seriously – the interpretation I have most often heard of “original sin” is that we are born into an unjust world and, willingly or not, participate in and even benefit from that injustice – this theology does still permeate language and thus thought in ways I wasn’t even aware of until I had the experience of saying daily that my soul was created pure.
(2) Another such strong contrast occurred during the confession of sin in the Yom Kippur service. Confession of sin is a weekly part of Episcopalian worship services, and so it’s language that I know well, so I was very aware of the difference between the Christian phrase “we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed” and the Jewish phrase “we have sinned against you in word and deed.” Removing “thought” from this equation has been powerful for me, for suffering over sinful thoughts has been an anguishing part of my and other Christians’ prayer lives for millennia. In my late 20s, I used to lie in bed at night and catalog my sins, most of which were sins of thought rather than word or deed; the good news is that I felt absolved of those sins after cataloging them and asking forgiveness, but of course the bad news is that this is hardly a psychologically healthy bedtime routine! (You should have seen the look on my therapist’s face when I told her about this practice.) The Christian emphasis on belief has been hard for me for years and is the primary reason that I embarked on the spiritual journey that has led me here; I didn’t believe what I was supposed to believe – what I attested weekly that I did believe, so add hypocrisy to that list of sins of thought – and I needed to find a community where my beliefs weren’t a problem. As far as I can tell, as long as I believe the Sh’ma, which I do, then I’m in good shape as far as thoughts go; what I need to control are my words and deeds. These I’ve been used to controlling, of course, but removing belief from the equation has been a weight dropping off of my shoulders.
(3) I really like the Jewish theory that we can repent through prayer for sins against God but that for sins against others, we have to go reconcile directly with them. Great concept, difficult execution. There really are only two people with whom I had direct conflicts in the last year – Ex-Co-Author and my mother – and in both cases we’ve moved by this fall to reasonably normalized relationships. But in both cases we made this move without ever having a full clearing of the air and reconciliation. So I thought very seriously about whether I was now called to sit down with each of them and talk again about the conflict from the past year. And in both cases, I decided against it, since I think it would just reopen wounds rather than offer healing. But this was very upsetting to me, such that I cried on Erev Rosh Hashanah and felt that I was somehow failing my very first Days of Awe. And then I got over that and moved on. I really liked the liturgical repentance during the Yom Kippur service, but the personal repentance is something I’ll have to keep thinking about. In the meantime, my Days of Awe discipline was to answer the daily question at 10Q: Reflect, React, Renew after I heard a news story about it on NPR on Rosh Hashanah morning; it will be interesting to have my answers sent back to me in a year’s time.
And just to finish off the Jewish holidays, Sukkot was kind of fun because the rabbi and his family had an open house in their backyard, hosting a celebration in and around their huge sukkah. It really was just like a big coffee hour/oneg, which is the sort of social gathering I find very difficult, and I slipped away after an hour, but it was interesting to see my very first sukkah. I'm not sure I really see D. and me ever building a sukkah in our backyard, although we do have space for it, but at least now I know what one looks like.
And this week, I skipped out on Simchat Torah because I was working until 10:30 on Wednesday night, but I'm jazzed that we're starting the Torah over again from the beginning this week. I've read the start of Genesis many, many times, but I don't think I've ever made it all the way through Deuteronomy. So here's my chance to start fresh and actually read all the way through Torah in weekly sections this year.
I actually went to services last night -- something that's been a rarity for me because I'm always so darned tired at the end of the week. I dragged myself there, resenting the whole enterprise, but once I was there I relaxed into it and enjoyed myself. I'm recognizing some of the music, and I think that I'll relax into service more and more as it all becomes more familiar.
Plus, last night the rabbi told me to friend him on FB, which of course made my night. I'm meeting with him again this Thursday.