Only Sins Committed Last Year? By Evans K. Chama


Lent is beginning soon. Strange enough, of all things what comes to mind is a Yom Kippur. Memories of the day come vividly. What does this have to do with me or Lent? Does conversion begin like this?
I remember Waking up that morning, I switched on the radio. Nothing! What demon damaged it in the night? I would have taken it to the repairer after school â€"I didn’t know.
Streets were bare. Odd! Didn’t I often pave my way through crowds? Besides, I always allowed for not less than ten minutes for traffic lights. That morning not one even blinked; no vehicle on the road and the entire town was dead silent. Only thing came to mind, ‘By the rivers of Babylon’. But why would they boycott on their own soil?
The few lone individuals on the road wore sneakers like athletes, women in white skirts like school girls. I went to inquire from my Jewish friend who explained.
Today is a High Holyday of Yom Kippur â€"a Day of Atonement, our last chance to make appeal so that God changes the judgment in our favour sealing the Books of life and death for the coming year. It’s the most solemn day in our calendar.
The Torah refers to this in Leviticus 23:27-28 or Numbers 29:7 as a day of expiation.
We don’t work on this day: no radio or TV, and never should you plan a journey â€"the airport is closed and no buses. Besides, we neither drink nor eat. We abstain from bathing, use of cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, as leather was once considered as luxury, and from sexual relations. And many would wear white as symbol of purity.
As Part of the service, we do communal confession of sins. Yom Kippur concludes with Ne`ilah, also known as closing of gates, during which the ark, scroll cabinet, is kept open throughout this service. At last resort we edgy entreating God to accept our sorrow for sins. Then, follows a long blast of the sho’far, ram’s horn â€"signifying God’s redemption in response to repentance.
Hence, Yom Kippur is about communal repentance of sins committed during the past year so that both the community and individual are written in the Book of life for the coming year.
After this explanation I was optimistic â€"we shall be living in a flourishing paradise. Only the next day would tell.
The construction of the separating wall resumed and the police were bountifully deployed all over town sieving between who belongs here and the other side of the wall.
At pause time, at school, I had quick look at the day’s papers; not good tidings of the anticipated heaven.
A man knocked by a car refuses to go to hospital was one report. He was afraid of being arrested, not for a crime he had committed as such but one of the numerous victims of separation of a people of a land. He had no papers; stateless â€"a child of the land but legally deprived. How painful to be an illegal immigrant in your own land! For that alone he couldn’t go to hospital and only God knows what happened to him after.
I read another story.
Mother abandons her baby in hospital. Why? By all means it’s not because she was a bad mother. She had to give a false name when she had gone in to give birth. Then, the staff discovered she had lied. Not sure what would happen to her She ran away for her safety leaving her newly born baby behind â€"another victim of statelessness.
At home, after school, I found the garden boy bogged up in his own murky. He was apprehensive about his continued reporting late for work for which he feared losing his job. And what would he do with his children and wife? He was a prey of the check point, to pass from the other side of the wall â€"Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
I looked at him; his face was dulled, fatigued by helplessness, a kind of vibrancy in his eyes â€"a simmer of anger.
That was already too much nevertheless not all. Wife was in shock.
The wall would soon pass right in their yard, their house surviving only by an inch but their vineyard would be lost to the other side of the wall. That had not been done by concession, rather by rule of the jungle. She was scared out of the vineyards with gunshots.
I wondered. What about the recent national repentance? What was it, if not about these evils? I had a question for my Jewish friend again.
“During Yom Kippur”, I asked, “for which sins do you ask forgiveness?”
“Sins against God committed during the past year”, he replied.
“Sins of the past year against God and nothing about a neighbour!” the words escaped my mouth, to which he confirmed by a nod. Within me I had wished if it could go like this: for the times we have made people strangers in their land or mistreated “strangers” and for the times we have caused others to sin â€"God have mercy? Then he added.
Yom Kippur atones only for sins between us and God, not for sins against our neighbour. With the neighbour, we must first reconcile with them, repairing the damage, done if possible, before Yom Kippur.
I wanted to ask more, then, I remembered something and hurried home but sins of the past year against God repeated itself like a mantra.
At mass, Ash Wednesday, sins of the past against God re-echoed. As the priest pronounced, marking a sign of cross on my forehead with ashes, “Be converted and believe the Good News”, I asked myself: only for my sins of last year against God and nothing about what I do tomorrow, and after forty days I start accumulating other sins of the next Lent? But then an echo again â€" different one, stronger and more demanding: Be converted and believe the Good News.

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