Becoming “At One” on the Journey

 â€œBecoming At-One on the Journey” 

A prayer:

May our supplication rise up at evening,
Our pleas arrive with the dawn,
our songs transform the dusk.


May our voices rise up at evening,
Our righteous acts arrive with the dawn,
our redemption transform the dusk.


May our suffering rise up at evening,
Our forgiveness arrive with the dawn,
our purity transform the dusk.


May our prayers rise up at evening,
Coming to You with the dawn,
Transforming us at dusk.


Thus unfolds the Day of Atonement, built upon two strong pillars. The first is S’lichot, forgiveness, and the second Viddui, confession. This prayer of forgiveness describes a day that begins in the evening, with supplication and suffering, prayers and raised voices; that proceeds to dawn, with righteous acts and forgiveness, a plea and a presence; and finally at the end of the day, the transformation of songs and purity, redemption and personality. The Jewish Day of Atonement, an evening and a morning, a long day of introspection and memory, fasting and prayer, and soon, at dusk, a clean slate, a chance at something new, a promise realized of forgiveness. S’lichot tells us that ruler of time and space is merciful, that the divine is forgiving; and promises that we, too, are forgiving, are merciful. Viddui, on the other hand, confesses that we are insolent and obstinate and sinful, and that our days are but a passing shadow; but with an assurance: that there is a presence that is gracious and compassionate, patient and merciful, One who is for time without end.


The confession goes:


Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, dibbarnu dofi,

It is a confession that is easy to memorize because each word begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet: alef, bet, gimmel, daleth . . .


In a modern English confession, each offense begins with another letter of our alphabet.

Children, can you hear the “a, b, c’s” in this litany, this list?

We abuse, we betray, we are cruel, we destroy;
we embitter, we falsify, we gossip, we hate, we insult, we jeer,
we kill, we lie, we mock, we neglect, we oppress, we pervert,
we quarrel, we rebel, we steal, we transgress, we are unkind,
we are violent, we are wicked, we are extremists,
we yearn to do evil, we are zealous for bad causes.


Our religion does not teach that there is some kind of hereditary stain that has power over us because the first man disobeyed God, and that sin has been passed on from generation to generation. We don’t teach that. But I think that the human condition is one where we have the capacity, with these big brains, to imagine life beyond the life we each will live. We have an awareness that our lives are beautiful, that our existence is precious. We have the consciousness that our life must one day end. This has set our species up for anxiety, for fear, for attachment to that which is unattachable. and thus, from a Buddhist perspective, for suffering; and so we are separated from the deep joy of momentary being, and get lost in reliving the past or anticipating that real living will happen some day in the future.


We are not at-one with this moment; no, we are at-two or at-three or at-a-hundred different places, imagining a thousand different versions of our life, a million different selves.


And yet there is but one reality; this one, right here; one self, this one, right now, which self is itself an illusion in its permanence, and is most true in our awareness that, as the Bible says, we fly away. All of us.


Human beings, I think, like to push the Re-set button; like to have a chance to Do-Over; celebrate when the year turns and we can make new resolutions. And so the New Year comes, Rosh ha-Shana, the head of the year; this year is 5776 since the creation of the world, and the New Year begins in the seventh month of the year, what in the Biblical book of 1st Kings was called Ethanim, the strong month, perhaps the month of the strong rains; now referred to as Tishrei. It might be tempting, for us, to create a new on-line identity, to start anew . . .


And yet, are we not kidding ourselves? Can we ever really start anew?


We can be At-One with this deeper truth of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; that we will always be broken and striving, always be fractional and impermanent, always self-centered, always make promises that we will not keep . . . and yet, there is something about this world we live in that is Eternal, that is ever-generous, that can offer forgiveness and blessing, even as we abuse, betray, are cruel, and destructive.


Two pillars hold up this being At-One: confession and forgiveness.


You heard Jim play a beautiful meditation on a moment ago on Kol Nidrei. (sing) Kol Nidrei. Kol Nidrei is the opening prayer of the night of Yom Kippur. You remember, “there was evening and there was morning, a first day” the Bible says. Hebrew days begin with sunset. The sun sets, and Kol Nidrei is sung. According to the prayerbook, “Kol Nidrei is an Aramaic legal formula created in response to a widely felt need to nullify unfulfilled personal vows, a desire to enter the new year with a clean slate. In the 9th century, Babylonian Jewish leaders opposed its recitation. Therefore Rabbenu Tam (France, 12th century) changed the language from past tense to future.” Not saying that past vows were renounced, what kind of vows might those be? But that the vows yet to be made are already retracted, and we already need to ask God to forgive our inability to fulfill our vows. “Kol Nidrei expresses our fear that even our best intentions for the new year will not be fulfilled. . . . At the same time, it expresses how much we regret what was not accomplished in the past year.” (Machzor Lev Shalem)


All vows, renunciations, bans, oaths, formulas of obligation, pledges, and promises that we vow or promise to ourselves and to God from this Yom Kippur to the next—may it approach us for good—we hereby retract. May they all be undone, repealed, cancelled, voided, annulled, and regarded neither as valid nor binding. Our vows shall not be considered vows; our renunciations shall not be considered.


So do we still make vows? Shall we make new year resolutions? Yes, of course; and we shall know that the coming of the New Year is, in some ways, a chance at a new start.


And there is a promise. “The entire congregation of the people of Israel shall be forgiven, as well as the stranger who dwells among them; for all have erred.” Moses prays, “As befits your abundant Love, forgive this people.” God responds, “I have forgiven, as you have asked.”


And the response is a song.


Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam
She-hecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higi-anu la-z’man hazeh.


Blessed are thou, adonai, sovereign of time and space,
for granting us life, for sustaining us, for bringing us to this moment.


Confessing who it is we are, really. Human, impermanent, out-of-connection with each other. Anxious. Sorrowful. Powerful. Capable. Curious. Energetic. Intelligent. Big-hearted. Strong. Generous. All of these we confess.


Forgiving and being forgiven. All of us. And all the strangers among us.


100 Women are strangers among us; 100 Women on a Pilgrimage to meet the Pope; 100 Women walking 100 miles to call attention to the world crisis in migration. 


Unitarian Universalists are walking with these women. Eleven years ago, we declared that immigrants were part of the new civili rights movement, In 2007, we held public actions at General Assembly to call for a more just immigration policy. In 2008 we accepted the report “Welcoming the Stranger.” In 2009, we founded Standing on the Side of Love to stand with immigrant families, and in 2010, we decided that the 2012 General Assembly would not be business as usual, but a Justice GA, where we spent a year developing relationships with national immigration reform organizations; where we placed staff in the field to allow us to be effective in showing up for people fighting Sheriff Joe and his jail system. And in 2014, we adopted a statement on Immigration as a Moral Issue, and heard from Sister Simone Campbell about our capacity to learn and grow and love by walking towards trouble. Walking not away from the challenges that face the widow and the orphan, the prisoner and the stranger, but walking into the trouble that they know. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow. That’s how we love. That’s how we atone.


This pulpit is not the place to name my support for a political candidate; but it is the place for me to exercise the freedom to say that the anti-immigrant sentiment that is receiving tremendous support in public debate is a sentiment that troubles me, that seems against my sense of what is smart, and is certainly against what I think is the perspective of our faith.  I enjoy when the Mexicans in my life share videos of the piñateros—the people who make piñatas—whose number one piñata currently is the Donald Trump piñata. I love that they can laugh at what I consider the extreme views that he shares. But I also fear for my country and its soul.


This week when I went to York Pennsylvania to stand with the 100 women and to be with the members of the York and Gettysburg UU congregations, I was saddened when people drove up to the march and yelled at these women; when an officer in uniform began pointing at each of them and menacing them; when a car drove far too close to the marchers on a curve. I stepped in with my dog collar and stole on, and said “bless you” to each curse, “thank you for your support” to each gesture, shared the two fingered peace sign to every single middle finger.


If we are to be At-One, in this high and holy season; if we are to be At-One religiously and politically in the democracy building that I see as a sacred act, you and I must both confess the incompleteness of who and what we are, and seek forgiveness for the ways we’ve allowed the deck to be stacked; for our inability to organize our faith response more clearly and powerfully; and for our willingness to treat the unfortunate immigrant as “the other,” the problem, the thing.


And we must offer forgiveness: to each other; to those we have abandoned and ignored; to those we have belittled and despised. “We abuse, we betray, we are cruel, we destroy” the Yom Kippur liturgy states.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith confesses that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity—of each other, and of immigrant women seeking familial restoration, and even of political candidates and their supporters who take positions at variance with our own. We are, all of us, on a journey, together. We are connected to one another and to this precious planet in ways that we do not know. And we seek to be At-One, to be at peace, to be whole.  


May it be so. Blessed be. Ashe, ashe. Muchisimas gracias. Amen.


Pastoral Prayer and Personal Meditation


Response     “Mi Shebeirach”    Debbie Friedman


Mi shebeirach avoteinu
Mekor habracha l’imoteinu
May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing
And let us say: Amen.


Mi shebeirach imoteinu
Mekor habracha l’avoteinu

Bless those in need of healing with r’fua shleima:
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And let us say: Amen.


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