Wednesday, September 23, 2015


"A Broken Vessel"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

Today Jews throughout the world celebrate the most sacred day on the calendar: “Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement” – a day devoted to refection upon and repentance for personal and corporate sinfulness.

I don’t often use the world “atonement” on my own spiritual journey. For me, the word carries a lot of negative baggage. When I think of “atonement” I conjure up images of an angry God offended by the sins of people, and if the people do not repent of their sins they will be punished.

Personally, I totally reject that idea of atonement - I never think of “God” as some sort of angry deity who needs to be appeased by what human beings do. But, there is another side of the word “atonement” that offers me great wisdom and deep insight as I make my way on the spiritual path

When l take a closer look at that word, “atonement” I see that the word itself means “at-one. ”  Atonement implies “uniting” that which is not at one, mending that which is torn apart and broken into pieces. While I don’t at all think a life of faith ever calls me to wallow in guilt or appease an angry deity, I do believe that a significant dynamic of a spiritual journey must focus on “mending the broken.”

On any spiritual path we all practice a discipline of At-one-ment.  

Today I call to mind a wonderful teaching that emerges out of the ancient Hebrew mystical tradition known as Kaballah. According to this teaching, the world was initially created in perfect harmony, all the many parts in a harmonious relationship, all flowing together, energized by the light of “God.” However that perfect harmony was shattered and the universal harmony was broken into many pieces – the light of God was scattered everywhere, little “shards of God” peppered throughput a broken universe.

Kaballah teaches that, rather than just wringing our hands and bemoaning our own personal or corporate brokenness, we are all called to actually do something about it, to mend that which is torn apart, to put the broken pieces back together again.

According to the Kabbalah tradition, human beings are all called to the practice of Tikuun Olam, translated as, mending a broken world. When we act with kindness and compassion, when we care for the needy and poor, foster reconciliation, seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness, we are in fact “mending a broken world,” putting the broken shards of God-light back together again, thus making the world a brighter place. 

The world is indeed a pretty broken place today and I suppose that there isn’t an awful lot that I or any one of us can do as individuals to control world events, but I can choose to live my own life in a spirit of “atonement”- to mend a broken world by the way in which I mend the brokenness that I encounter in myself and in my everyday relationships.

On this day of Yom Kippur I turn to the words of one of my favorite Christian saints, Francis of Assisi, who offers this magnificent prayer of “atonement:”

Make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is discord, union
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.

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