Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Drama of Religious Life

9/30/2017—Today is Yom Kippur, the awesome day of judgment. Millions of Jews all over the world will pray today to be sealed in the Book of Life—they and their loved ones—for the coming year. Who will live and who will die. Who will be happy and who will endure tragedy.

The Unetaneh Tokef prayer says that the severe decree can be averted. The following is from the site, My Jewish Learning:

The prayer of Unetaneh Tokef is climaxed by the culminating verse, which the congregation proclaims as one: “Penitence, prayer, and righteous acts avert the severe decree.”
In some of the older mahzors [holiday prayer books], there appear three other words, above “ , , tzedakah,” [repentance, prayer and righteous acts]in a smaller print: “tzom, kol, mamon“– fasting, voice, money. These represent the means or methods whereby one can practice the three virtues of penitence, prayer, and righteousness. For the ordeal of fasting leads to repentance; the voice is the medium of soul-stirring prayer; and the contribution of money to a worthy cause represents an act of “tzedakah.”

Now, I freely admit that I can no longer live this way. Something in me rebels against this very prayer. Of course human beings in their pride always rebel against God. But I no longer feel that my rejection is unjustified. Nevertheless, that old story is not my reason for raising the matter today, on Yom Kippur.

At the end of the 24 hours—actually a little more—a Jew emerges refreshed and alive. Her soul has actually been cleansed. On a smaller scale, this happens every week after a religious service. This is the drama of religious life. The religious rhythm is one of ordinary life and special occasions. It is a genuinely satisfying way to live. Without it, life is one gray line.

Partly, this rhythm is the result of the pattern of occasions. The secularist can replicate that to an extent. But partly this is the result of contact with ultimate meaning on a regular basis, which can be impossible to experience. The practice by some of substituting politics for religion leads to disastrous results.

The question remains—-how can Hallowed Secularism be lived? I have never answered that question with any conviction. I still don’t know.

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