Oh, I just have to write on the Avinu for this one. Avinu, Malkeynu, Haneynu VaAneynu ki eyn banu ma-asim. I know, it’s not exactly forgive, but it’s close enough and those who read my blog will probably forgive the stretch.
Avinu – our father – but not in a sexist, specific to the male gender kind of way – our parent, our mother, our source; we are praying to someone who takes care of us. When I ask God for forgiveness, I am vulnerable. I admit I messed up and didn’t live up to my expectations of myself. I admit I caused pain. It’s embarrassing. I hate that state of vulnerability so much that I am still, after near half a century of practice, still working on the art of apologizing. So, here, in a haunting melody, after asking God to understand that I am far from perfect and listing a litany of things I’ve done wrong, I accept that place of vulnerability, and I hope to be taken care of.
Malkeynu – our king; our ruler – I like the fact that apologies don’t take away the rules. They exist. People’s boundaries are real and when we break them, that’s something else to acknowledge. So, when I apologise, I’m acknowledging that what I did was wrong. Not just that someone misunderstood me, not just that I acted ok but they’re oversensitive, not just that there was an accident that somehow involved my body, but that I broke a rule, that they, as rulers over a space that includes themselves, had the right to make. When I say Malkeynu, I acknowledge how many times I tried to violate the basic rules that the universe operates on, and appeal for forgiveness to the One who makes these rules.
(Having kids truly showed me how often I cause those unavoidable accidents – if I was an artist, there would be two pictures, here. Picture one would have a kid balancing on a chair, which was standing on a pile of books, with a toy in her hand, trying to reach a high cookie jar on a shelf. Picture two would have the jar in pieces on the ground, with the caption, “it was an accident…”)
Avinu, Malkeynu – Our father, our king – this prayer reminds me that I’m not unique as far as mistakes go, and as far as needing forgiveness goes. We cry together in a definite acknowledgement that the prayer applies to all of us, because we are all imperfect. There is a comfort and strength to this, just as there is in the realization that by saying “our”, we build connection and relationship, both with each other and with God – God is ours. It’s OK to ask God for forgiveness. This is not the ‘our’ of ownership – this is the ‘our’ of love.
Haneynu – Have mercy upon us. Forgiveness is a gift. It’s not something anyone “should” do, or “must” do or anything but a place where I ask someone I’ve hurt to go beyond what’s right. What’s right is that there is this ick between us. I hurt them, they need to avoid me in this area. It’s ugly and ick. I can’t demand they change that – they run the risk of being hurt again. I can ask for forgiveness, however, and hope they choose to gift it to me, accepting that a “no” is just as possible as a “yes”. That’s part of the vulnerability, and an important part because without that gift, no repair is possible. What I say when I pray Haneynu, is that I know that God is good to appeal to for mercy. I hope to be granted the gift of forgiveness, not because I deserve it, but because God does that.
Va-aneynu – Answer us; reply; connect. Re-establish the relationship that I’ve ruined with my clumsiness or my selfishness, my uncaring or dishonesty, through fear or through anger. This is an acknowledgement that apologising and forgiveness strive to repair a broken connection. So, part of my apology is an unspoken request for acceptance and reconnection. Also, this word prays for understanding. Don’t answer the people who we should be – we’re not them. Don’t answer in prayer the people you imagined us to be or hoped us to be or thought we were – not them either. Don’t answer the face we show the public – it’s fake. When I say “sorry”, I’m also asking for understanding. “I am this broken, imperfect person – I hope you can answer me, not someone else.”
Ki – because; since – we name our fault. An essential part of an apology is to name the fault. A generic “I’m sorry”, popular among folks at this time of year is too general to fix what’s broken. It’s like seeing a torn up picture and pouring a bunch of glue on top. You might fix the picture, but more likely, you’ll make a sticky mess. You need to see where the rip is to have a chance of fixing it well.
Ain banu ma-asim – we have no deeds; there are no deeds within us; we are deed-less. We apologise for having done nothing right. It’s that horrifying moment when I realize that all my best intentions mostly paved the road to hell, and that I actually have done nothing that doesn’t need some apology. I tried to be loving? Was I actually more pushy and annoying than anything else? I tried to be strict, but was I actually simply mean? How often did the limits that I have as a person result in me hurting? How often was that on purpose, as I reacted out of less than sterling intentions? Far, far too often. I realize how little I have to be proud of, and how much to be sorry for. I accept the vulnerability of an apology.
The Avinu Malkeynu always makes me cry. Standing spiritually naked and shivering, before someone who has every right to be angry and no reason to forgive, having stripped myself of all pretence and self-justification, I say sorry, and wait to see if I am forgiven.