Tag Archive | Forgiveness

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.

The Shame Game

Call to worship: Shame

Music Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPlBBLc6vno&sns=em

I hope you found that video as powerful as I did.  The images made me feel ashamed, ashamed of what we as humans have done to each other and to our planet.  It made me ashamed that I have not worked even harder to make it better.  Maybe some of you reacted the same way.  It is the shame game that we have all been taught to play.

The lyrics to the song, however, offer a different game plan.

Some of you may have heard the song, “What I’ve Done,” by Linkin Park before, and some of you haven’t.  In either case, you may not have caught all the lyrics.  Let me read them to you.

In this farewell

There’s no blood

There’s no alibi

‘Cause I’ve drawn regret

From the truth

Of a thousand lies

So let mercy come

And wash away

What I’ve done

I’ll face myself

To cross out what I’ve become

Erase myself

And let go of what I’ve done

Put to rest

What you thought of me

While I clean this slate

With the hands of uncertainty

For what I’ve done

I start again

And whatever pain may come

Today this ends

I’m forgiving what I’ve done!!!

So let mercy come

And wash away

What I’ve done

I’ll face myself

To cross out what I’ve become

Erase myself

And let go of what I’ve done

What I’ve done

Forgiving what I’ve done

How about we all try and do what the lyrics advise? Step outside the shame game and let mercy come and wash us clean.

Shame is very much a part of this culture.

The concept is even in the book of Genesis, where Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed until they ate from the tree of knowledge.  The popular interpretation of this is that they sinned in doing so, committing the so-called original sin, which defined human beings for all time as inherently sinful.  Adam and Eve covered their bodies and the rest of us are forever covered in shame.

Shame is a tool of social control.  You should be ashamed of yourself because you…fill in the blank.

The thing about shame, as opposed to guilt or remorse, is that it is not just about something we have done or not done. When we feel ashamed we feel like we are a bad person, sinful, weak.  We can hate ourselves.  It is who we are and change seems impossible.  There can be no forgiveness, no renewal or rebirth, and even no real restitution when we are consumed by shame.

“I’m just bad, kill me now.”  Shame is often one of the emotions that can lead people to consider suicide.

What a waste!  What a crime it is to shame another human being, to tell them, in essence, that their life is not worth living.  People are shamed all the time just for being who they are – too fat, too skinny, too gay maybe.  “Your clothes are funny, you can’t sing, why don’t you get a better haircut?”  Those of you in junior high know that the shame game begins early.  Even if you don’t buy into it, you are forced to play.

Shaming someone for something they can’t help is really terrible.  But it is also just a terrible way to treat anyone for any reason.  No matter what someone has done, they still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Does that sound like our first principle?  Yes, if we truly affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then shame does not belong in this faith tradition.  Yes, people do bad things.  We have ALL done bad things.  But we are not bad people at our core.  We sin but we are not “sinners.” Labels like that just don’t make any sense to me.

So what can we do?  How can we cope with the realities that were pictured in the music video we watched?  We are all, collectively at least, responsible for all of the evils shown.

Some of what we can do, of course, is try to balance the horror with the good things.  The video also showed images of people helping people.  Part of spiritual maturity is the ability to witness tragedy and still know that there is good in the universe.  We aren’t a bland, “everything is OK; God has a plan,” kind of religion.  We also aren’t a “wait for heaven where everything will be OK,” kind of faith either.

Unitarian Universalism instead calls us to live in this world, to face uncomfortable realities, and to try and make things better in the here and now.

I am going to say that again, because it is important.

Tweeters, get ready.

Unitarian Universalism calls us to live in this world, to face uncomfortable realities, and to try to make things better now.

Shame doesn’t help us do that.  It holds us back.  It leads us to despair.

Instead of playing the shame game, if we are guilty of something, we can try to make amends.  We can learn from our mistakes.  If someone else does something we believe is wrong, can we criticize the action and not the person?  Can we be emotionally open enough to accept criticism without taking it personally and feeling ashamed?

We’re going to play a game now.  Let’s call it the Get Rid of Shame Game.

I have a balloon in my pocket.  OK, you can’t see it, but trust me, it’s a balloon.

Guess what?  You all have a balloon in your pocket too.  If you don’t have a pocket, look in your purse.  If you don’t have a purse or a pocket, maybe in is tucked into your right sock, or even – tucked behind your left ear.

Ok, got your balloons?  Are you ready to play?  If not, it is OK to just watch.  Every game needs a few spectators.

Take the balloon and think of a time you have felt shame, either because someone has shamed you or because you have done something bad.  Take a deep breath, and slowly now, blow some of those feelings of shame into the balloon.  Keep blowing until you are out of breath.  My balloon got bigger, did yours?  Take another breath and blow some more shame in.  Wow!  What a heavy balloon!

Tie it off.  We don’t want to let any of the shame out; it is scary stuff.

I know it is big and heavy, but if you can, toss that shame-filled balloon as high and as far away from you as you can.

Watch out!  Someone else’s shame is about to land on your head!  Catch it!  Quick!

Hmm.  This one doesn’t seem as heavy to me as mine did.

How about you?  Are the one’s you are holding lighter too?

The balloon you have now is full of another person’s shame.  Quite miraculously, I know you all caught one from someone else.  Except for the spectators of course.  Their hands weren’t up so the shame just bounced off the tops of their heads.  Not a bad strategy, actually.

Our own feelings of shame are almost always worse than what others think of us.  Not always of course, because sometimes other people are just wrong.  But this one feels way lighter to me than whoever had it first.  It is MUCH lighter than my own.

We should be tender with other people’s feelings.  Give the balloon a gentle pat, stroke it, maybe a quick kiss is even in order.

OOOO!  It is getting even lighter!  Healing is happening!  Hallelujah!  Do you feel it?

Wow!  Now it feels like a regular balloon! Want to bat them around for a bit?

Ok, now something else is going to happen because I don’t want anyone to feel ashamed because they had too much fun in church today.

In my other pocket, guess what?  I have a needle. Maybe some of you have one too.  Hold it in the air and as a shame-filled balloon comes by…..well, you know what happens when a balloon lands on a pin.

All of that was a rather silly way to demonstrate a few of what I think are truths about shame.  It helps to recognize that shame is what you are feeling.  Name it as shame and don’t get it confused with anger, remorse, or another emotion. Get someone else’s perspective.  Maybe what you did wasn’t so horrible after all.  Maybe it was, but it was something you did.  It isn’t who you are and you don’t have to do it again.

We need to go back to the song lyrics now.

“I’ll face myself

To cross out what I’ve become

Erase myself

And let go of what I’ve done

Put to rest

What you thought of me

While I clean this slate

With the hands of uncertainty

For what I’ve done

I start again

And whatever pain may come

Today this ends

I’m forgiving what I’ve done!!!

So let mercy come

And wash away

What I’ve done”

Let mercy come.  Let us end as we began, with the words we heard earlier by Beth Lefever:

“We are whole, even in the broken places, even where it hurts.

We are whole, even in the broken places, the places where fear impedes our full engagement with life; where self-doubt corrupts our self-love; where shame makes our faces hot and our souls cold.

We are whole, even in those places where perfectionism blunts the joy of full immersion into person, place, activity; where “good enough” does not reside except in our silent longings; where our gaps must be fast-filled with substance, accomplishment, or frenzied activity lest they gape open and disgust.

We are whole where we would doubt our own goodness, richness, fullness and depth, where we would doubt our own significance, our own profoundness.

We are whole, even in our fragility; even where we feel fragmented, alone, insubstantial, insufficient.

We are whole, even as we are in process, even as we stumble, even as we pick ourselves up again, for we are whole. We are whole.”

Amen and Nameste.


No need my friend

To hang your head

To cover your face

With sullen salty ashes

No need to think

Your soul is lost

No need to feel


There is no shame

In being human

No shame at all

No shame


Guilt there is

Regret can be

Remorse is sometimes


Mistakes are made

Wrongs are done

When we have

Hurt someone

We need to try

To make amends


Banish shame

Send it away

Forgive yourself

Lift up your eyes

The sun will rise again

Human hearts

Are fragile things

Love not fear

Will help them mend


You’ve good to do

You’re needed here

A blessing you should be

Those who judge you worthless

Need forgiveness too.


There is no shame

In being human

No shame at all

No shame