(re)Imagining Restoration

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This shall be a statute to you for ever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny y

ourselves,and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves;it is a statute for ever.

—Leviticus 16:29-31

Within the Jewish tradition, this past weekend was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  As the culmination of the ten-day Rosh Hashanah celebration, Yom Kippur marks the highest holy day in the Hebrew calendar—a day, definitive of that holy season, filled with fasting and punctuated by prayer all for the sake of repentance.

Having a season of repentance ending with a day of atonement, leads to three questions:  repenting for what; atoning with whom; and how do fasting and prayer lead to repentance?

These questions deserve a little unpacking.

The traditional answer to the first question is repentance for one’s sins.

Here, sins are those activities that miss the mark, that fall short of what is expected of a faithful person’s actions toward others and toward God.  Such actions run the gamut from moral failure to simple miscalculation.  Therefore, the season of Rosh Hashanah allows for the seeking of forgiveness from others, allowing Yom Kippur to serve as the day to seal or ratify those efforts at reconciliation between oneself and others.  Yom Kippur functions as the Divine “amen” to human reconciliation, a reconciliation that requires divine and human restoration, too.  In other words, Yom Kippur is a celebration of reconciliation, reconciliation between humans and each other and humans and God.

Here enters the answer to the second question, the question of atonement.  Atonement is that activity of restoration.  Atonement is always, fundamentally, a relational activity, not an abstract one.  In removing a barrier erected through sin, the restorative healing of fractured relationships may begin, a removal and restoration essential to whole persons and whole communities.

So how do fasting and prayer help facilitate this repentant atonement?  The answer, again, bears a relational mark.

Prayer and fasting help facilitate restoration by moving toward the same goal from two separate directions.  Prayer enables those needing to be forgiven to achieve a poster of humility and readiness to seek forgiveness, while fasting allows those needing to forgive empathetically to feel the pain experienced by those who have caused their relationships to be broken.  In other words, prayer makes one ready to ask.  Fasting masks one ready to say “yes” when asked.

At the very core of the central actions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a heightened sensitivity to the essentially of community.  All these faithful actions are meant to heal a community’s fundamental fabric, allowing that community to remain knitted together for another year, a year certain to hold celebrations and sufferings, a year of the expected and unanticipated.

Regardless of our various faith traditions, such habits of asking for and granting forgiveness seem like a good idea, actions that reminds each of us that at the heart of our living are the enduring bonds of life shared.  This life shared with others is more essential than the achievement of goals or accomplishment of desirous tasks.  While important, such goals and tasks seem only to carry value if those goals and tasks result in healthy, whole communities more tightly bound to each other and to the Sacred.

As we press deeper into our academic life with each other this term, may we have a semester defined by the virtues essential to Yom Kippur.  May our shared work be valued on how that work builds a better community and shared world more than it leads to worthy accolades and records of achievement.

Accolades and achievements are important, but better communities and a better world seem, ultimately, to be more important.  Having both would be great.  But if we must choose, may our preference always be for the latter at the expense of the former.

Have a great start to the week and see you along the way.

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