STLT#216, Hashiveinu

Day two of laryngitis – day two of not actually singing, and letting a series of YouTube videos sing for me (by and large, videos of high school choirs around the world singing this with a simplicity this middle aged voice long ago relinquished).

It is again a simple piece with deep complexity, a prayer from the Book of Lamentations 5:21: “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old.” (NRSV)

Hashiveinu, hashiveinu,
Adonai eilecha venashuva.
Chadeish, chadeish yameinu kekedem.

“Restored” can mean a lot of things – from simple sleep and rest, to remembering who we actually are, to being brought back to repent and renew. And while I know the prayer seems like it starts with the Divine – ‘restore us to yourself” – the very act of saying this prayer is the first step. We must be willing to ask, to use that pesky free will we have, to spiritually ask God to “open the door, please, I want to repent.”

Lately in Unitarian Universalist circles, there’s been some discussion about our lack of prayers of confession, and how, without our formally being able to say “we’ve messed up, we repent, and we seek forgiveness” means a lot gets bottled up, overlooked, swept under the rug. This happens amongst each other, in our congregations, and in our denomination. I know we aren’t a ‘confessing church’ – rather, we are much more likely to feel that if humanity is innately good, what have we to confess? We forget that good people sin too, and confessing isn’t necessarily about saying “I’m terrible and was born terrible” as much as the Calvinists would like us to believe. Rather, it’s about saying “I want to be restored to the goodness I know lives in and among us.” Our Universalist theology doesn’t say we don’t sin – rather, it says sin and evil are here on earth, and we must work hard so that love, freedom, justice, and compassion win. And part of that has to be confession. How can we be good, honest partners for each other if we can’t acknowledge the elephants in the room that keep us from one another?

Lord help me, I am about to quote a poem I want beyond want to forget – mostly because I had to memorize it for a class in seminary and it annoyed me – but for real, this is at the heart of WIlliam Stafford’s poem, “A Ritual to Read to each Other”:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Hashiveinu calls us to reawaken, to see beyond the darkness, to talk to each other and seek restoration.

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