Friday, September 13, 2013

Yom Kippur: A Meditation

This evening marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement in the Jewish faith. It is a day for fasting, repentance, and prayer as we the community repent of our sins. Yom Kippur services open with the evening Kol Nidre service, a hauntingly beautiful service that opens with the Kol Nidre prayer, a prayer that our unfulfilled promises, vows, and renunciations from the past year would be wiped clean so that we may begin again. I attended Kol Nidre services this evening with my husband and father-in-law at the synogogue my husband grew up attending. I stood and sat with tears in my eyes, opening my heart to G-D in the confession of my own failure to be the person I have been called to be.

The rabbi preached his sermon about faith, truth and doubt. I love that he said that doubt should be celebrated, truth sought, and faith needs to leave room for mystery. He talked about how every relationship is filled with doubt, but when the relationship has primacy then doubts are just part of the terrain to be navigated. The important thing is to keep with the relationship, even when things are tough. Be like Job, he said, who never doubted G-D’s existence and stayed engaged even when that engagement meant arguing with G-D.

It’s very like what the pastor said in a church I attended a few weeks ago. He was giving a sermon series on how faith needs to be personal, how the intellectual obstacles get in the way because in the end faith is about being in relationship with G-D. He talked about how every relationship has unanswered questions and unsolved obstacles – getting married, becoming a parent – but when love enters the relationship and it becomes personal the obstacles become smaller. They don’t disappear but they just get brought along into the relationship, part of what gets worked out.

I try to pay attention when I hear two similar messages in close proximity like that. Especially because I think these are really good messages for me, because I tend to think things to death. I make pro/con charts, not just lists. I ask the same questions over and over, poking at issues from different angles. Sometimes it’s little stuff, like what stroller is best or what suitcase should I buy if I choose to replace our luggage or what nightlight timer will best keep our three year old in bed. Pro/con lists and reading reviews online work pretty well for the little stuff, although it takes me longer than I would like sometimes to reach a conclusion. On the other hand, sometimes it’s really big stuff, like should I stay in the same job or should I change churches or should we have another kid. I’ve found that pro/con lists don’t help so much in these big questions. I can think of reasons to do or not do any or all of these things, and the reasons are good. In the end it comes down to relationships for me. I stay in my job because I care about the people I work with, both colleagues and patients. I am choosing to change churches because the one I was attending was so far away I wasn’t able to participate in the life of the community and form relationships. My husband and I probably will have another child eventually because we love each other and our daughter and we want to share that love with another person. 

To bring it back around to Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre, I confess that I am too often distant and intellectual. I am too often stuck in my own head, calculating pros and cons and planning for my own best comfort instead of jumping into full engagment with G-D and the people in my life and the events of this world. I am too often impersonal rather than personal. Perhaps it is hubris to make new vows so soon after asking for nullification of the old ones, but my prayer and promise for myself this year is to allow my relationships to hold their primacy.