Days of Awe


Days of Awe

The Jewish High Holy Days ended last evening at sundown. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the ten days between the two holidays are also called the Days of Awe.


It is a sacred time, a time to get right with God, to confess your sins, to atone for your sins, and to give and receive forgiveness.


Sin is a difficult concept for many of us Unitarian Universalists to wrap our heads around. We don’t believe in original sin. Many of us don’t believe in the idea of a supreme being that can forgive our sins, even if we have them.


The Rev. John Buerhens says,

“We may not be sinful by nature. Much less born into the world by a sinful process. But we are born into a world in which the manifold sins of oppression, pollution, exploitation, racism, sexism, and other narcissisms are all present before we arrive. Such sin is not original with us; we do not choose it. But it traps us.

And here is the paradox: until we accept the deep truth that we all share this condition, we may be trapped indeed. Trapped in pride and illusion. Only in humbly accepting that we share this condition even with those who have wronged us can we forgive others and allow ourselves to be forgiven. As C. S. Lewis said, “The first step toward being humble is to admit that one is proud. And that’s a biggish step, too.”


Ah, humility. We Unitarian Universalists can tend to be a self-righteous prideful people, politically correct in all things, and a little too quick to pass judgment on others. When we make mistakes, it can be hard for us to admit them, even to ourselves, because maybe we fear that judgment, our own and that of others, may be turned upon us.


So how do we approach this time? Judaism is part of our religious heritage and its wisdom is referred to in our sources, the ones I spoke about the other week. Some of us too, grew up in Jewish households.


I don’t have that background myself, but the High Holy Days still speak to me. I think they speak to the human condition, the lack of perfection, the sorrow and regret we all live with. The also speak to the resentment and anger we can hold against others.


This is a time to try and let some of those feelings go.


A traditional Jewish prayer for this time is as follows:



“O Source of peace, lead us to peace, a peace profound and true;

lead us to a healing, to mastery of all that drives us to war within ourselves and with others.

May our deeds inscribe us in the Book of life and blessing, righteousness and peace!

O Source of peace, bless us with peace.”


Don’t we all want peace? Peace for ourselves and for those that we love, and peace for our world that is so torn apart by violence and hate?


Peace my friends, begins with us.

Many of you know the reading by Lao-Tse that is in our hymnal.

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

How do we find peace in our hearts?

I think the practice of both atonement and forgiveness can help lead us there.

One of the readings from the Torah, the Jewish Scripture, that is read in synagogue for Yom Kippur is from the book of Isaiah, chapter 58.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
 and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,…?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
 and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
 and break every yoke?
 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
 and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?
 when you see the naked, to clothe him,
 and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
 9 ….”If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
 with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
 and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
 then your light will rise in the darkness,…
 11….You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

We do fairly well here on trying to loose the chains of injustice, but what about the pointing fingers and malicious talk?

Where is simple forgiveness, for our own selves and for each other?

Most of our sins are relatively minor: things like rudeness, inattention, carelessness, selfishness, all small failures that can eat away at the fabric of community if they are neither acknowledged nor forgiven.

Sometimes others hurt us, and the hurt is more painful because of other experiences we may have had. Do we take the time to reflect on this, to offer an explanation, or do we store up this hurt with all the others and not reach out for understanding.

People who are hurting can also hurt others in their pain. Forgiveness comes a little easier if you can feel some compassion for someone who has hurt you.

Forgiveness does not include condoning or excusing bad behavior. Even with good reasons, it is not OK to hurt others. The really bad actors need to go to prison of course, to make everyone else a little safer, but we all also know people who we just avoid, who are dangerous to us emotionally even if we have no fear of physical harm from them. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to let them back into your life, but it does mean that you can finally get to a place where you have let go of at least most of your anger.

Letting go of our anger is a way to get to that peace we were praying for earlier.

Letting go of our guilty feelings, trying to make amends for the wrongs we have done, asking for forgiveness, giving the gift of forgiveness to ourselves, is yet another way.

John Buehrens also said,


“Those who risk and fail can be forgiven; those who never risk and never fail are failures in all their being. They are not forgiven because they do not feel their need for forgiveness. Therefore let us dare courageously not to be conformed to this age, but to transform it—first in ourselves, then in the world, and both in the spirit and power of love.”

A Rumi quote I have always loved:

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass,the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make sense any more.”

As the Unitarian Francis David said back in the 1500’s, “We don’t have to think alike to love alike.”  I think he and Rumi would have liked each other.


Take the risk. Try to find that field. Reflect for a moment upon the last year.

What did you do or not do that you regret? Is there a way to make amends? Will saying that you are sorry be a beginning?

What are you angry about? What will it take for you to let that anger go? What will it take for you to forgive?

We will have some silence for your reflections.

In a few moments, Peter with blow the Shofar in the traditional way, but first I will close with these words by -Robert Eller-Isaacs. It is a responsive reading that is in our hymnal, but you don’t need to turn to it. Your line is easy to say, “we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.” It is easy to say, but so much harder to do. Let’s try it.



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 we have struck out in anger without just cause,

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.


Amen and Blessed Be.

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