When I was growing up, I knew no Jewish people. For that matter, I knew very few Catholics. Most everyone I knew was some variation of mainstream Protestantism, albeit usually a conservative variation, since I grew up in the U.S. South. Even during my grown up years in South Carolina, I knew very few Jews.
And then, I moved to South Florida. Now I've met a lot of Jews and gotten to know a few. I’ve been experiencing a strange sort of envy, as I watch my friends celebrate their Jewish holiest days.
My childhood self hated belonging to what I considered to be an easy religion. I wanted kosher laws that I would struggle to keep. I wanted to do penance for all my sins. The concept of grace left me uneasy.
The high holy days of Judaism appeal to me in just that very way. The problem with the concept of grace, the way that many people understand it, is that it leaves people with no obligation to do any kind of self-reflection that might lead to meaningful change. I've seen far too many people knowingly act in egregious ways, so assured are they that Jesus loves them no matter what they do.
The idea of a period of intense introspection enchants me. I also like the idea that it ends. Immersing myself in a period of repenting and atoning, fasting and prayer--that idea has enormous appeal. The idea that God seals the book, absolves us, and we go back to regular life also appeals. Most humans can't live in that kind of intense self-awareness and repentance for too very long.
Does Christianity have a similar time? The period before Easter, Lent and Holy Week, are the closest. I've wondered if every major religion has a similar period that happens once a year. Ramadan is one example, and I'm sure there are more.
I wonder why it's only once a year in most major religions. I'd argue that we could use this time of recalibration during each quarter of the year.
So, today, as my Jewish friends immerse themselves in this holy time, and as I go about my regular life, I'll try to remember to think about God and that Book of Life. I'll think about my current life and where I need some change in its trajectory. I'll pray for all of us who are engaged in a similar time of introspection.
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