Two readings before Yom Kippur
Thirteen ways of looking at Yom Kippur

A personal Al Chet

One of the recurring themes of the Yom Kippur liturgy is that we have made mistakes. Several times during the day we recite litanies of sins. (A note on "sin." I understand the Hebrew חטא / chet to mean "aiming for what's right and missing the mark." I find our usual English shorthand translation uncomfortably loaded, but haven't found a concise replacement yet...)

The traditional vidui (a confessional prayer consisting of two parts, ashamnu and al chet; learn more here) is in first person plural. We have abused, betrayed, deceived. We have been obstinate, oppressed others, acted wickedly. No one has done all of the misdeeds our liturgy lists, but we recite in the plural to indicate that our fallibility is shared, and that forgiveness comes to everyone regardless of individual transgression.

I've been working on my own al chet prayer. Like my other liturgical poems, it's not a translation; it inhabits the space between poetry and prayer. And unlike the traditional prayer, it's in the first person singular. Maybe I'll post some thoughts about this piece next week, if anyone's interested? For now, though, I offer it as a sincere confession, and welcome response of all kinds.

AL CHET SHECHATATI L’FANECHA...         ...על חטא שחטאתי לפניך


I need to speak these words aloud and to know that the universe hears them.
I get caught in old patterns and paradigms; I am stubborn and hard-headed.
In the last year I have missed the mark more than I want to admit.
Forgive me, Source of all being, for the sin I have sinned before you

By allowing my body to be an afterthought too often and too easily;
By not walking, running, leaping, climbing or dancing although I am able;
By eating in my car and at my desk, mindlessly and without blessing;
By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced;
By not praising every body's beauty, with our quirks and imperfections.

By letting my emotions run roughshod over the needs of others;
By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth;
By revealing my heart before those who neither wanted nor needed to see it;
By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely;
By dwelling on what's internal when the world is desperate for healing.

By indulging in intellectual argument without humility or consideration;
By reading words of vitriol, cultivating hot indignation;
By eschewing intellectual discomfort that might prod me into growing;
By living in anticipation, and letting anxiety rule me;
By accepting defeatist thinking and the comfortable ache of despair.

By not being awake and grateful, despite uncountable blessings;
By not being sufficiently gentle, with my actions or with my language;
By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;
By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;
By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

For all of these, eternal Source of forgiveness
Help me know myself to be pardoned
Help me feel in my bones that I'm forgiven
Remind me I'm always already at/one with You.

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