In my book, You Gave Me a Wide Place: Holy Places of Our Lives (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2006), I wrote: “The word 'repentance' (in Hebrew teshuvah) means to turn around or to return. Repentance is a synonym for regret and restitution. But [repentance can also have] a more positive meaning: of aligning one’s priorities in order to remain true to one’s values. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson writes that, 'The beginning place, as with any return, is of having a place from which we start, a home base, a point of origin, a beginning.' But Rabbi Artson also notes that turning/returning includes 'finding our essence…our core.' He asks, 'What is your core? What is your center? What is that part of yourself that you cannot abandon without walking away from who you truly are? Is your life balanced, centered? This kind of turning is not a turning to get back to some earlier time; it is a turning to remain true.'” (1)
Advent is traditionally a period of solemnity, repentance, and fasting. You may be thinking, Yeah, right, as you think of the un-solemn busyness, shopping, crowds, and holiday feasts that are typical of contemporary life, although in churches, the purple color of church vestments conveys solemnity (according to ancient church traditions).
How might we think of Advent repentance in the way that Rabbi Artson writes: not just sorrow for sin but a rediscovery of our true nature? One way might be to reassess the “truth” of who we are and where we are in our lives. Are we involved in activities that give us a sense of satisfaction and service? Are we anxious, which can reveal old sources of distress in one's heart (my own struggle)? Are we engaged in unhelpful activities (gossip, maneuvering for position, etc.) that bespeak a core of unhappiness and selfishness? Do the words we speak sound like the person we want to do--or like some angry, dispirited, unsettled person?
Rabbi Artson’s questions, posed for an Advent season, can inform a meaningful time of reflection: “What is your core? What is your center? What is that part of yourself that you cannot abandon without walking away from who you truly are? Is your life balanced, centered?”
1. Bradley Shavit Artson, “Turning,” in Tikkun, Sept.-Oct. 2002, pp. 66-67 (quotation from p. 66).
(A post from 2010)