Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish day of Atonement. Yom Kippur, the day of fasting and seeking forgiveness, is perhaps the highest holy day of the year. The teaching goes that the process of forgiveness begins with the approach or the asking, followed by a pardon by others, enclosed by atonement with the divine. The beauty of this holiday is the promise of redemption, that regardless of worldly pardons, God will again embrace you.
It is in the acknowledgment of our own brokenness and the humility that comes with it that we have access to the redemptive gifts of healing and release. This is actually taught in all world religions, that the courage to bear witness to our own weakness, to strive to a better reflection of ourselves is where we are of most service and most deeply connected to our spiritual source.
The annual observance is compared with the turning of the seasons and the spinning of the planets as we turn toward the light, toward compassion for ourselves and others, and toward the promises that Life holds beyond our own small egos. Our own personal hero’s journey is constructed of this return to ourselves by seeking pardon for any pain we have caused or mistakes we have made.
I have had only a few deep experiences of full forgiveness in my life, when the past was so completely cleansed that I had no more memory of before. But I know that all the small daily acts of forgiveness is the glue that keeps relating possible, imperfect as they may be. I attended the service tonight, looking for a forgiveness that has eluded me in my family.
It is a hard and brittle place that feels like a trap that I get caught in with my eldest son. Today, I again witnessed the sorrow and anger that has held us together and apart for so long and wanted so much to find the words that would move us both toward forgiveness. There were no words that could sort through the layers of old story that keep us from letting go. There was only the request for forgiveness.
Sometimes it seems like not enough to just ask for forgiveness. But I read in the prayer book today an image that made me realize how potent the asking can be. “We long for transformation as we cast our voices upward….Words pile on words creating a ladder ascending to the heart of prayer.” We don’t always find that total transformation, sometimes we only get a few steps on the ladder, but at least we are headed in the right direction.