Called to Repair Relationship

Yom Kippur, part 3

In group process there’s a principle called “step up, step back” -- along with such other principles as, “assume best intentions,” “use ‘I’ statements,” and “avoid generalizations.” The “step up, step back” principle asks participants to self-monitor how much they are speaking. If they’ve been speaking a lot, decide to step back and let others speak. If they’ve been quiet, push themselves to step up and contribute comments or suggestions. If you spent a year engaged with people and skillfully balancing stepping up and stepping back, you’ll probably be able to look back on that year and see yourself as having failed to work for peace, failed to speak up against what, in your opinion, was an injustice.

But it’s not all on you. Peace and justice must be built together, collectively, and we don’t all have the same vision of what peace and justice are. Similar considerations apply to the other usual faults and failings.

What looks to some of us like ignoring the poor in our midst looks to others like an appropriate level of attention given the need to respect other’s choices while allowing choices to have consequences.

What looks to some like withholding love might look to others like respecting autonomy and boundaries.

What looks to some like distorting the truth for our own advantage might look to others like standing up for oneself and trusting the process to sort it out.

What looks to some like conforming to fashion rather than conscience looks to others like considerately accommodating the tastes and sensibilities of others.

So what is wrong with you? Every fault or failing you could find in yourself has at its root a virtue. And, yes, these faults/virtues of ours sometimes hurt other people – and their faults/virtues sometimes hurt us. These bumps and hurts, too, are part of the process of our ongoing learning about how to skillfully balance respecting others autonomy -- and helping them; balance accepting others for exactly what they are -- and encouraging them to further growth; balance being interested in their lives -- and respecting their privacy; balance being open and sharing of yourself to others -- and maintaining boundaries; balance seeing things from other viewpoints -- and integrity to your own viewpoint.

It’s a lot to balance, and the hurts we cause others and the hurts we feel from others are the bumps of the continual re-alignment and re-adjusting of those balances.

The traditional language is that God forgives us for transgressions against God. I understand that as a reference to the forgiveness of our faults we experience when we see them in the light of the virtues that are at the source of those faults.

But for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another. I understand that as a call to relationship, to having the conversations in which we take the time to hear and empathize with others’ hurts, and hear and empathize with what led them to hurt us.

Those can be some hard conversations, and we aren't always up for that work. But once a year, we can take a deep breath and muster up the will to pick up that phone, approach that person we’ve been just a little estranged from, and take up the work of repairing relationships. It’s a wonderful tradition that calls us to remember each year to do that -- because it’s so easy to let it slide and slide.

These are the days of awe, the days of atonement. Now is a good time for that annual mustering for difficult work of repairing relationships -- for by our relationships do we live.

May you be inscribed in the book of life. G'mar Hatima Tova.

* * *
The evening hours that begin Yom Kippur are called “Kol Nidre,” which means “all vows.”

Some say that it is a prayer of people not free to make their own decisions, people forced to say what they do not mean. They say that the agony of those who had to say “yes” when they meant “no,” those coerced and oppressed, echoes in each repetition of this prayer.

Some say that the Kol Nidre is a confession. We are all transgressors, all exiled from the highest we know, all in need of the healing of forgiveness and reconciliation. For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.

The Kol Nidre is a practical and honest reminder of our fallible humanity, recognition of which is the beginning of compassion. This is the version of the Kol Nidre prayer that appears in the Union Prayer Book in many Reform Jewish congregations:
May all the vows and promises before God, which we have left unfulfilled;
May all the moral pledges, penalties and other self-imposed obligations we have left undischarged, from last atonement day until this atonement day now come to us in peace;
May they all be forgiven by the almighty, and be accounted as of no moment.
We regret having made them.
Still more, we regret having neglected them.
May the almighty grace strengthen us in the future to keep us from the rash vow, the hastily-imposed self-discipline, and teach us to bear the sufferings of life as they come, with patience and with resignation.
* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Yom Kippur"
See also
Part 1: What's Wrong with You?
Part 2: Upsides of Failings

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