Blogging Ellul: A Catholic Pauses on Yom Kippur

I have asked a few different voices to write for the blog during the month of Ellul, and interestingly two of my Christian friends who have written have reflected on Yom Kippur. One of those I am saving for closer to Yom Kippur, but the following reflections also allow us to hear the spiritual effect of the calendar as a whole on a Catholic.

Each year with the arrival of the High Holydays I find myself pausing, particularly on the eve of Yom Kippur, a time when there is something palpable in the air, a sense of the transcendence of God pressing down on human time with particular force and density. Nothing so unusual about this, the majority of the readers of this blog might say, except that I am Catholic, and not Jewish, and my sacred calendar does not incorporate Yom Kippur, the High Holydays, or the month of Ellul with it’s rhythm of Selichot and soul- searching. And yet each year I pause, arrested by a spiritual force in the air despite the fact my Jewish friends are in London, not Dublin, and that the friends in whose company I find myself around this time each year would not be aware of anything special happening.
When I was invited to write this blog entry, as well as feeling honoured, I found myself trying to explain why I feel like this, what leads to this annual spiritual heightening, and initially I found myself stumped. Gradually, though, as I let my thoughts mull around, an explanation formed which I think goes some way to explaining things. One of the great Catholic mystics wrote that the process of striving to purify ourselves from our sins and faults was akin to cleaning a window that has become darkened by dirt and grime. Once clean, the sunlight which was shining on the window all along is allowed to stream in and illumine the room with its light. In the analogy, the sunlight is God’s love and presence which is always trying to reach us but whose ingress can be blocked by the faults and failings to which we are all prone. As someone who has been involved in interfaith dialogue for some years, however, I would like to extend the insight in a way that probably would not have occurred to the sixteenth century writer in question, but which, I think, is a truth that has been revealed to us in our era with a particular clarity, namely that as humanity we stand together in the one room as we seek the light of the Divine Presence. Accordingly, when any of us starts to clean the particular window in the room which is our responsibility, the  light coming into the room becomes stronger for everyone, an insight which I suspect may  be part of  the reason the story of Jonah and the Ninevites was chosen as one  the texts to be read on Yom Kippur itself. Looked at like this, all our efforts to come closer to God impact the whole of humanity and, indeed, all of reality. In this context it makes sense to pause on Yom Kippur, even if you are Catholic! Wishing you all (somewhat prematurely) Shanah Tovah and well over the fast.

John Robinson and I have been friends since meeting in 1999 at a Jewish-Christian-Muslim Youth conference in Bendorf, Germany. He is writing a phd in Theology, and was my successor as chair of the ICCJ Young Leadership Council. He was born in Belfast and lives in Dublin and is a big fan of spangles and whisky. He probably shouldn't have allowed me to write his bio :)


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