Start over. Repent. Create a juicy new beginning. That’s what’s happening in the Jewish community during the High Holy Days in September. Even if you are not Jewish, the High Holy Days offer spiritual guidance for supporting seekers of many faiths who are ready to release anxieties and transgressions from the past and embrace God’s ever-present love today and into the future.
During the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Jews make a spiritual inventory and repent (teshuvah). In the book, Jewish Spiritual Guidance, Carol Ochs and Kerry Olitzky describe the value of meeting with a spiritual companion, or mashpiah in Hebrew, in the process of repenting:
So what is teshuvah? If sin implies that we have ceased to follow the pillar of cloud, teshuvah is a decision to look beyond the effects of that error and to seek the cloud again. If sin is regarded as falling asleep, teshuvah is waking up. If sin is failure to see and esteem the sacred text of the other, teshuvah is a heightened sense of the other. If sin is weariness, teshuvah is shaking off of weariness. Teshuvah is renewal of our covenant with God.
The spiritual guide should be aware that sin, and the seeker’s awareness of it, can serve as a wake-up call. Such awareness can get the person back on the spiritual way. Of course, it can be terrifying to be awake, to have to confront the dark side of one’s nature in its totality. This dark side may be the seeker’s central concern, but for the guide it is significant primarily in terms of the individual’s relationship with God.
As spiritual companions, we have a dual role. We need to continually practice waking up by participating in the spiritual traditions that feed our souls. We also have a special role to encourage and hold with tenderness our spiritual companions as they return more fully awake to a loving and forgiving God. Franciscan Richard Rohr writes in his book Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, “We are made for transcendence and endless horizons, but our small ego usually gets in the way until we become aware of its petty preoccupations and eventually seek a deeper truth. It is like mining for a diamond. We must dig deep, and yet seem reluctant, even afraid, to do so.”
A loving and forgiving God awaits us each moment. We know this. Yet often spiritual companions and seekers alike find it hard to sense God’s presence and to feel worthy of the love and forgiveness that this season of Holy Time celebrates. This September, may we offer each other courage with the Hebrew blessing, shana tovah u'metukah, which means "a good and sweet new year."
What good and sweet new beginnings await you?