Monday, October 2, 2017

On Being Forgiven: On Yom Kippur

Close to sundown, on the closing day of Yom Kippur, I was hungry and just wanted to eat Peruvian rice and seafood. I could hear my stomach rumbling, and I wasn't keeping busy. So, I was reminded about my hunger. This year, on the Great Day of Atonement, I didn't eat or drink from sunset to sunset. In doing so, I did have an insight into my life. Although I wasn't born Jewish, this is the second time I practiced Yom Kippur. 

I tried it three years ago and almost fainted, and because of how much I hated the physical pain of fasting, especially without water, I skipped it last year.

That was a mistake, and a big one at that. It was a mistake, because I remembered that my first practice of Yom Kippur helped me focus for the year and have a greater level of consciousness for going forward into time. This year, after practicing Yom Kippur, I had the insight: I need to be kinder to my brother.

I didn't grew up with practicing Yom Kippur. In fact, a number of my atheist Jewish friends made fun of me for practicing it the first time. Yom Kippur requires that the observant, amongst other practices, not eat or drink for about 25 hours.

Why put yourself through a kind of self-restraint or pain? Yom Kippur is considered the holiest of the Jewish holidays, because the observant asks God, and all those he or she hurt, for forgiveness. It's not an accident it falls near the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. What better way to start the New Year with a clean slate regarding all your relationships?

The fasting serves at least two purposes, maybe even three. First, the constant hunger and thirst is a reminder to focus on your meditation time, generally the things you've done wrong in the year. Second, the denial of the body's craving (which in Christian theology is the origin of harming others), reminded me I'm not just body and flesh. As Jesus said, "Man shall not live on bread alone." What it means is that, as humans, we're more than just animals; we're spiritual beings that have to be learn how to overcome the cravings of the flesh. Third, in the Western World, it teaches one to say no to the excesses of the world. We're surrounded by food and pleasure, but one must learn to say no to such excesses, which in the end can cause the consumer to be harmed and blinded.

During that time, there was a lot to review in my head - a world in rewind. My own spiritual cleansing reminded me of one of my favorite poems by George Herbert, the Temple. Take a second to read it. It's beautiful.

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth . . .

Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices; something understood.

(To tell you a little bit about this poem, Herbert argues that all these beautiful metaphors is what prayer is like - a kind of connection to God. I always found it beautiful that Herbert states that our prayer - our request to God - sounds like church bells and can be heard beyond all the stars of the galaxy. A beautiful thought.)

Back to my own reflections. Two major themes revisited me during this time of reflection: The meaning of family and justice. I didn't arrive at too many conclusions. But my oldest uncle on my father's side died a few days before Yom Kippur. I wasn't that close to him; I only met him once in my life. But it reminded me, how short the time is amongst each other. I only have one brother. He's younger, and I realized I need to be kinder to him, going forward.

When the sun finally set on the Day of Atonement, I thanked God for a number of things, I broke my fast with a rather untraditional meal: ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime juice), paella (rice with seafood), deep fried fish, and red wine. I was reminded: "[T]he old has gone, the new has come." (2 Cor. 5:17 GNT). 

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