Sermons

The Book Of Life

posted on October 2, 2016

L’shanah Tovah!

May you be written into the Book of Life for a good year!

The Book of Life is a book that God keeps, according to Jewish custom, and in it each year God inscribes every person’s fate for the coming year.

Rosh Hashanah, which begins tonight at sundown, rings in the New Year in the Hebrew calendar – tonight begins the year 5777. Tonight observant Jews will celebrate together and begin a ten-day period of reflection, soul-searching, repentance for wrong doing, and forgiveness of those who have wronged them.

It is a time for healing relationships, for mending that which has been broken.

Anne Lamott wrote,

Broken things have been on my mind … because so much broke and broke down this year in my life, and in the lives of the people I love. Lives broke, hearts broke, health broke, minds broke… [O]ur preacher, Veronica, said that this is life’s nature, that lives and hearts get broken, those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward, and that we, who are more or less OK for now, need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.

One of the hardest things to come to grips with as we become adults is the knowledge that just about everything can and probably will break. Hearts, minds, and relationships break as easily as china plates or shinbones.

So I’m glad that this month we are going to talk about healing. And I think these Days of Awe — Days of Repentance — from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are excellent for examining the broken places in our lives and thinking about how to heal them.

Christina Grof writes, to heal means to rediscover that divine idea, that place of wholeness, within each of us. Our task …  in the spiritual journey is to peel away the layers between us and the deeper Self. We can use the image of a vast ocean that is barricaded away by a dam that keeps us from knowing it exists. Even though our intellect may learn there is an ocean, we cannot conceive of it because we have never directly experienced it. And then, for an instant, we transcend the barrier, and we see and feel the ocean directly. Once this has happened, we become strongly motivated to experience it again.

These Days of Awe are excellent for doing what Step 4 of the Twelve Steps calls for – a searching and fearless … moral inventory of yourself. (The program actually calls for a written inventory of personal flaws.)

Doing this, we may arrive at realizations about ourselves that are uncomfortable — to say the least. But this is the work of healing. This is the gateway to living an honest and I think happy life.

There is a prayer book for the Days of Awe called The Gates of Repentance, and one of the readings is adapted in our hymnal. It goes like this:

I hereby forgive all who have hurt me,

all who have wronged me,

whether deliberately or inadvertently,

whether by word or by deed.

May no one be punished on my account.

As I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me,

may those whom I have harmed forgive me,

whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently,

whether by word or deed.

It’s a simple prayer, really. Even simpler was Jesus’s version: “Forgive us our debts/trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

In Judaism, there are two avenues of confession, repentance and absolution or forgiveness. First are the wrongs we have done to other people. In this time we are asked to contact everyone we may ever have wronged and ask for their forgiveness. I know of one person who calls almost everyone she knows and says, “If I have wronged you in any way, I ask for your forgiveness.”

The second arena is the one between you and God — I take this to mean between you and your Higher Self, your conscience. Your Jiminy Cricket, so to speak. There are ways in which we do wrong that offend our own conscience even if there’s no one to apologize to.

During these days of Awe, we’re called to consider those wrongs, and pray for forgiveness. Those for whom the notion of a personal god has not much meaning must reach within themselves – touching that place of wholeness, that divine idea within.

They say that confession is good for the soul. It’s good for the heart and the mind, and I suspect those two together make up the soul. Confession, repentance and atonement are old concepts in both Judaism and Christianity. Engaging in them is a healing thing to do. Confessing to yourself as to what you have done, repenting – which is nothing more than feeling or expressing regret.

Repentance literally means to turn; it’s the activity of reviewing your own actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It generally involves a commitment to personal change and the resolve to live a more responsible and humane life.

And it is very healing to forgive others for letting you down.

The central question really is, am I the person I want to be? Do I want to continue to be bound to my past, and captive to my future? Or am I ready and willing to do the soul-searching work that will ultimately free me? Am I ready to forgive, so that I may move along? Forgive others, and forgive myself for my own mistakes.

In her sermon “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” Rita Schiano writes,

“Forgiveness is not weakness; it is not acquiescing to someone else’s bad behavior. Forgiveness is not condoning their actions; it is not saying ‘That’s okay.’ Forgiveness is not excusing what happened; nor is it a pass for bad behavior.

“And forgiveness does not mean that we are obligated to continue a relationship with someone who has caused us hurt or harm. Many times these are the people we find the hardest to forgive, for we feel we are then obligated to “let bygones be bygones” and allow that person full access to our lives. We do not.”

But hear the words of Frederick Beuchner, [BEEK-ner]:

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back— in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself

When we do not forgive, when we hold onto our grievances, we lock ourselves to our past and we are eaten up by the negativity in our souls.

I had a difficult childhood. My mother was an alcoholic — a beautiful and brilliant woman ravaged by addiction. My dad died when I was 12. The following 8 years were marked by unrelenting emotional pain. My mother finally ended her own life when I was 20. Two years after that I began college full-time.

While I was in the process of both going to college and healing my very broken heart through a combination of therapy and study, I learned Transcendental Meditation© and I meditated each evening with another few people.  After we’d meditate we’d sit and talk, and of course I shared my sad story.

After a few weeks, one of the men in the group said to me, “Buffy, personal history is too much baggage to carry around.”

I thought about this for a long, long time. I had an image of life as a moving train, and me standing on the platform with all the weight of my grievances in big bags in my hands and all around me. I could either get on that train or stay with the baggage but I couldn’t do both.

I began then to forgive my father for dying and to forgive my mother her alcoholism.  I’m almost there.

I’m not saying I don’t have any baggage. I’m saying that when I recognize that baggage — the old grievances, frustrations, disappointments — when I see I’m getting bogged down, I do my best to let it go. To forgive, if not forget. You have control over forgiveness, maybe not so much forgetting.

“The first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiving,” writes ethicist and theologian Lewis Smedes. He goes on to say, “When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”

According to the tradition, the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur), is the time when the final verdict is made for each human life for the coming year. The Book of Life is sealed. Everyone confesses his sins. The Unetanneh Tokef prayer is recited. Here it is in part:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severe Decree.”

What would be written in the Book of Life for you? Would the severe decree be annulled? Are you bearing wounds that haven’t healed? Could you pray the prayer from the Gates of Repentance:

I hereby forgive all who have hurt me,

all who have wronged me,

whether deliberately or inadvertently,

whether by word or by deed.

May no one be punished on my account.

As I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me,

may those whom I have harmed forgive me,

whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently,

whether by word or deed.

I’d like to close today with a responsive reading, if you will – Responsive Reading #637 by Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For losing sight of our unity

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

Begin again in love – Amen.

 

 

 

 

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