A week before our wedding I accompanied Lory to the Yom Kippur service at Temple Israel. She was raised in a Reform Temple in Cleveland, having grown up in a suburban Beachwood, which was about 95% Jewish. As a child she didn’t realize that this wasn’t the norm—she was surprised to learn that most people in the country and the world were not Jewish.
I knew that her Jewish heritage was important to her, of course, and I wanted to be supportive. Her mother had died just a month before our wedding, and while she lay dying I spent a good deal of time with her, reciting poetry and Psalms, and having some important conversation. She told me that she was glad that Lory and I were going to be married; she said she hoped that I would help her only granddaughter, Carlyn, to be raised with a Jewish identity. I promised I would.
Halfway through that Yom Kippur service, when I was taking mental notes and listening to the muic, Lory turned to me with tears running down her cheeks and said, “I love being Jewish.”
In the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and conclude ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Attendance at services is a must for even the most minimally observant Jew.
The High Holy Days are about endings and beginnings—the New Year. The central ingredient to endings and beginnings has to do with forgiveness–acknowledging one’s imperfections, in a direct way.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It’s an interesting word: atonement; it breaks down into at-one-ment; we are separate from one another, but in a larger sense we share this life, this earth. We become divided from one another and need to reconcile, to become at-one, as best we can.
Those who are observant not only attend services, but make a conscious, serious attempt to resolve conflicts with family, friends and business acquaintances.
There are so-called sins against other people that you need to take care of directly with those persons, and there are so-called sins against God that you need to acknowledge by attending services and making confession, asking forgiveness, and promising not to repeat those sins, even while honestly acknowledging that you probably will repeat them.
By acknowledging faults and failures one is able to close out the year, and be better prepared to enter the New Year.
When the slate is clean, so to speak, one is ready to change—to become more like the person you want to be, or need to be. When the slate is clean, the mind and heart is open to new insights, which is the ultimate goal we call ‘wisdom.’
The Book of Proverbs says, “Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore get wisdom and with all thy getting get understanding.”
Whitman put it poetically:
Here is the test of wisdom,
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it to another not having it,
Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof
So, what have you learned, so far?
There’s a special kind of wisdom in children’s stories.
Take the wonderful story of The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery. It’s a story about exploring the world around you and the world inside of you. I especially love the passage about how we achieve a sense of belonging—the story of the Little Prince taking care of his rose, thinking it’s the only rose in the universe.
He feels crushed when he discovers a huge field of roses, then he meets the wise fox who teaches him what it means to gain a sense of belonging—what it means to establish those special connections or ‘ties.’
“It was then that the fox appeared.
“Good morning,” said the fox.
“Good morning,” the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.
“I am right here,” the voice said, “under the apple tree.”
“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”
“I am a fox,” the fox said.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But after some thought he added: “What does this mean – ‘tame’?”
“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”
“I am looking for men, “said the little prince. “What does that mean- ‘tame’?”
“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”
“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean – ‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“To establish ties?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But, if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.” . . .
“My life is very monotonous,” he said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. . . .”
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please – tame me!” he said.
“I want to very much, the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things one tames,” said the fox.
“Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me. . . “
”What must I do to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down a little distance from me – like that – in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstanding. But you will sit a little closer to me every day. . .”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy, I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you. . . One must observe the proper rites.”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.
. . . And so the little prince tamed the fox. . .When the hour of departure drew near . . . he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–“ said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.”
As human beings we have a need to belong. To tame, then, in the sense St Exupery uses the term, is to develop a sense of belonging, one rose at a time, one person at a time.
Erik Erickson, well-known psychologist, talks about the need for a child to develop basic trust; but he also talks about a child’s tendency to develop a basic mistrust.
Feelings of trust are comforting and reassuring; feelings of mistrust are disconcerting, but may be necessary as the child grows, explores and develops independence.
We all need a sense of belonging; it happens in a healthy family environment; it happens in school or in a religious community; it happens in clubs—social groups.
The bottom line to a sense of belonging always goes back to each individual’s developmental stages through life. The good news is that problems in the early stages of development can be overcome, later.
It takes work. It requires some risk.
Take, for example, my relationship with Ruth Codier.
Ruth was an active member of the first congregation I served, beginning in April of 1970. Ruth and I had a clash, very early on. I had edited something she wrote for the newsletter, leaving out a few lines to fit her piece into the available space. She was not happy about that and told me so, in no uncertain terms.
Giving me fair warning, she also told me she didn’t want me trying to be her minister—she said that she didn’t like ministers. (I never found out where she developed that sense of ‘basic mistrust’ about clergy, but I can guess.)
A year or so after our first meeting we were arrested together, along with 400 others in Lexington, for demonstrating against the war on the town green after being denied a permit for our gathering. We were taken in busses to the Department of Public Works and put in a huge car barn where we sat on the dirty floor singing protest songs.
Ruth and I wound up in a small group in the middle of the night and at one point she turned to me and said; “I told you some time ago that I don’t like ministers.” She waited for me to acknowledge, nonverbally, at least, that I heard what she said. After that pregnant pause she said, “But you could be my friend.”
We did, indeed, become friends. She tamed me. I was 31, just learning how to be a minister worthy of her trust. She was 71, unlearning her basic mistrust of clergy.
When I left that congregation in Lexington to take up my first sr. ministry I invited Ruth for Thanksgiving dinner at our house in Attleboro—she lived alone. She came, and when she was leaving the house that day she handed an envelope.
After she left I opened the envelope and inside was a brief poem:
Some couldn’t stand me.
You stood me.
It may be
Because you stood me
I’m more standable.
That’s my favorite poem about belonging; it’s about forgiveness; atonement. It’s a Yom Kippur poem.
My first Yom Kippur service was with Lory. “I love being Jewish,” she said, expressing the universal need for a sense of belonging.
Thousands of Jews in Westport will attend the Yom Kippur services at Temple Israel on Thursday—they actually hold two simultaneous services, one at the Temple and the other at Bedford Middle School. No matter what they might believe, religiously, or theologically, they have something very important in common: their heritage, their ethnicity, if you will; their sense of belonging.
The need for a sense of belonging goes to that place the poet called ‘where the spirit meets the bone.’
Here at the Unitarian Church in Westport we’re trying to find ways to tame one another…to establish ties, without having to give up our sense of individuality. Let me know if I can be of help in that process.