Forgiveness, Yom Kippur
Rev. Paul D, Daniel
A great human truth is that we are all deeply wounded by life,
often by our friends or loved ones.
As a result, many of us struggle with a spiritual malaise
expressed through anger, while others live lives of quiet desperation,
emotionally crippled and isolated.
Some hid a great sadness with smiles, covering up their pain by trying to be the life of the party.
Leonard Cohen decades ago sang of this reality and the possibility of hope for something more healing, “there is a crack in everything and that is how the light gets in”; The light of forgiveness, love, God.
In these special days “The Days of Awe”,
between the Jewish festivals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the year of new beginnings;
we are called to look within with relentless honest;
to truly see ourselves as we are,
and address our shortcomings.
By engaging in such a moral and ethical self-inventory, we can create a joyous new beginning.
But, we must be truly repentant for our past sins.
The new year calls us to turn back to the light of love and compassion.
In the twilight of the vanishing year, Jews and UU alike are called to
lift up our hearts in thanksgiving for life ever renewing.
These are the days of wonder when our souls are stirred up by the memory of past joys,
yet weighed down by the realization of our transgressions.
We need to seek sincere atonement for the times we have strayed from right relations; with ourselves, other and the holy.
Forgiving ourselves and others is the pathway back to love and peace.
Lewis Swedes defines forgiveness this way,
“the elimination of all desire for revenge and personal ill will toward those who have deeply wronged or betrayed us”.
Releasing our anger can bring inner peace and free us from defining our lives by the
injuries we have suffered [or caused].”
We can open ourselves to the frail and flawed human within another and forgive those who hurt us.
We can make a conscious, intentional choice to eliminate
the existing dynamic of mutual enmity back towards a kind of détente, or better still, a renewed relationship
which over time can lead to a full restoration of love and trust.
By so doing I believe we can heal.
Today I offer not despair but hope and possibility, arising out of our own innate ability to change and grow.
“These wounds often have cut us to the bone, and
perhaps may never fully heal unless we forgive.
They are spiritual in nature because they deal with our place in the human community and
how we relate in the most profound way to each other.
Healing is a choice, do we to allow the light of love to seep in and cauterizing our wounds or do we continue to wall ourselves off from our deepest, truest selves and others.
So, what are we called to do?
The OT tells that our sins against God can only remove by appealing directly to God for forgiveness.
That sounds a lot like praying.
Now, if you find prayer hard…try talking directly to the person you offended or who has wounded you.
In Judaism and UU isms or even in a twelve step program, we can make amends and
hopefully be forgiven directly by another person.
There is no way we can know that the forgiveness we seek will be granted unless we ask
but after an honest, heart-felt attempt we can at least forgive ourselves.
The wounds we have inflicted on another may be too recent, too deep, too painful, to be granted.
One thing is certain, forgiveness requires restitution and true repentance.
Justice and equity in a UU understanding embodied in our covenants must be offered to the aggrieved person.
Steps need to be taken by the perpetrator to change behavior;
not for a day or a week, but for all times.
Restoration back to right relations may require just a simple apology for a minor offense,
or more serious restitution, such as jail time for a criminal offense.
Victims of serious violations do NOT have to forgive; and certainly not forget.
But, if we are able to forgive, we free ourselves to begin again devoid of anger and despair.
We serve ourselves best when we open our heart to all others and find a way to love again.
Forgiveness is as much for our own salvation as for the other person.
Let me share a personal antidote to illustrate the challenges of forgiveness.
Some of you may know I am estranged from my youngest son Peter.
He and I have not talked in over four years except at my nephews, his cousin’s funeral.
Over that time, I repeatedly asked for forgiveness to no avail.
My phone calls or e-mails were never answered.
In fact, he once hung up on me.
Over time, I became consumed by both anger and
grief for the pain I felt at his rejection. And most assuredly the pain I have caused both my sons.
At Yom Kippur time especially, we are forced to confront our inadequacies and own them, as painful as that is.
I have taken responsibility that I hurt my son deeply by my less than stellar parenting at a critical time in his life.
I don’t know that he will ever forgive me, his wounds, deep and painful.
Choosing to forgive or not has consequences for both parties.
I must carry on without the forgiveness I crave.
He must carry around all that anger that can weigh him down.
Neither of us so far have been willing or able to restore our relationship.
Without that forgiveness, my only hope of healing is to go deep within to accept my shortcomings and work to heal my guilt and grief.
I am called in my heart to amend and atone for my adequacies, as we all must.
To that effect we can make vows and promises to forever abandon behaviors that harm others.
We are called to make amends in direct, personal ways with
the goal of reconnecting, ending destructive behavior that separates us with all that is holy.
We can atone for our sins and mistakes by reaching out to others who suffer,
starting with those we have offended and wounded.
Here at UUFP we can make right relations the core of our communal work.
Through our work for restorative justice and compassion for one another and the human community we can make amends and earn back forgiveness?
As UUs we believe that there is salvation through good works.
Forgiveness may be the hardest good emotional work we will ever do.
The work of salvation is thru love.
Norman Cousins said it well, “Life is an adventure in forgiveness”.
Life calls us to endless forgiveness, to call up a heart of tenderness, until it becomes a habit.
When we let the light of love break into our wounded hearts we are set free to live again;
to begin the journey from resentment to forgiveness,
thoughtlessness to mindfulness,
callousness and selfishness to compassion.
We can resolve to remove from our minds all sentiments of rancor and enmity” (James I Ford) for those who have offended us, inflicted pain or angered us.
We can “stand on the side of love”.
We can then forgive ourselves whether or not we receive forgiveness from those we hurt,
we can let go of our sham, guilt and resentment.
With equal fervor and authenticity of purpose,
we do our best to let go of grudges,
knowing that failing to forgive another person only poisons our own well.
It might be said, the final stage of forgiveness might be to wish the bastard well, and mean it.”
May it come to pass!
“Shanah tova”, A blessed new year.