Rosh Hashanah: ruminations

Yesterday I went to Rosh Hashanah services with a friend, Michael. In the midst of the morning service there was this personal meditation:

The day has come
To take an accounting of my life.

Have I dreamed of late
Of the person I want to be,
Of the changes I would make
In my daily habits,
In the way I am with others,
In the friendship I show companions,
Woman friends, man friends, my partner,
In the regard I show my father and mother,
Who brought me out of childhood?

I have remained enchained too often to less than what I am.
But the day has come to take an accounting of my life.

Have I renewed of late
My vision of the world I want to live in,
Of the changes I would make
In the way my friends are with each other
The way we find out whom we love
The way we grow to educate people
The way in which the many kinds of needy people
Grope their way to justice?

(from The Wings of Awe, A Machzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations, Washington, D.C.)

To dream and renew: it took my breath away!

As a more or less good Episcopalian every Sunday and more often quite regularly I say the confession. But Confession is only part of the cure to the enchained heart. What is needed in part is better dreams, better vision.

This is now the second year of my inclusion in the High Holy Days, each occasioned by the desire to hear Michael give the Rosh Hashanah sermon / talk.

This year he spoke to me directly: as a warning to us all he put it clearly – Martin Buber was right, there can be no I-it relationships among people if there is to be both justice and peace among people, there can only be I-thou relationships. The challenge to the congregation was that they think beyond the enchained heart that always links being Jewish to being a supporter of the State of Israel, and beyond the vision of a future of justice for the Jewish people to a vision of justice for all people.

The challenge for me was to look again at the struggles we find ourselves dealing with in Christendom, and in particular in Anglicanism.

I have been accused, sometimes rightly, of turning people who hold for a realignment of the Anglican Communion to include as primary some other entity in North America than the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada into an “it,” into “them.” The question is, how to hold, say, the Bishop of Pittsburgh accountable precisely as the spokesperson for a movement and organization that is indeed “them” and not turn his person into an “it.” How do I battle against the forces I perceive would claim to be Anglicans and push me out of such a claim, and at the same time still remember the “thou” of the persons involved?

This seems a good exercise for the New Year and for a time of Atonement.

There are three ways:

  1. Never confuse the person speaking in the office for the person as such. When possible, when I am critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I ought refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not Rowan Williams. When I am concerned for the “thou” of the ABC, I pray for him, Rowan.

  2. Never make the attack on the institution, or the role, an attack on the individual. The Archbishop of Nigeria is an individual in the office. It is the combination that is the difficulty. If Peter Akinola had no power his views would not matter, if the Archbishop of Nigeria was not a powerful office, Peter would have taken his views elsewhere. As it is, he is Peter, and the Church is his rock. And still, in there is Peter, the “thou.” How do I know the persons and not the “facts” only?

  3. Hold the individual accountable for his or her actions and still hold that person in prayer. For the person to remain a “thou” in the heat of battle, it is important to both challenge the person and to hold them in prayer at the same time. This is very difficult for me. Bishop Minns is indeed a bishop, to be held in honor for that. He is also a player in the unfolding drama in the Anglican Communion, a player whose real influence is not yet totally understood, but what I know of those influences leads me to demand his accountability. He needs to be challenged at every turn. At the same time, in all the twists and turns of events he is indeed worthy of my prayers every bit as much as is our rector, bishop or primate. He is still a “thou.”

Louie Crew says this: “God loves absolutely everybody.” I think that is true. And yet I know that God has a particular preference for the poor. It means I am further back in the line then say, the Gay Episcopalian made unwelcome by the Church, the African American who finds the Episcopal Church genuinely frozen in its exclusionary practices and goes another way, the member of a first people’s group who find that this land is not their land and is really really angry that no one seems to care. God will indeed know me as a “thou” and will invite me in, but he will have invited others first. Everyone gets in, but the poor and poor in spirit first.

And I must also realize that God is likely to remember the “thou” I made an “it” sometime before God remembers me.

It is time to practice atonement.

So, may the High Holy Days be a blessing to us all, to the whole World in suffering, and to each of us who dares to dream and vision for a world of “thou,” and not “it.”

Pass the Thou.


  1. Stunning. And true.

  2. Dear friend Mark,

    You were always wonderful. And you only get better with the passage of time.

    May you live to perfection!


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