starting fires with divine sparks

It’s Yom Kippur, and I’m fasting, and I’m in a fair amount of unrelated physical pain at the moment (my back is acting up something fierce and my head is beginning to pound).

My temper is short and my patience is shorter yet. I just snapped at a friend for a mostly harmless comment (that I recognize was not intended to provoke, and that in a more generous place, I would have shrugged off), and I meant it because I’m not in the mood. I’m more raw and scraped bare than usual.

Sugar-want does this. Pain does this. Growing dehydration does this. Yom Kippur does this.

It lays you open, and it forces you to think. Hunger can provide clarity, and the monkey-shells of our daily lives crack open to reveal the meat of emotion inside.

Usually, that turns me to the divine, to sifting through quotidian matter to find the divine spark–in myself, in others, in the sounds of the street drifting up through my closed windows, in reaching out through the electrons to make photons dance before you.

But the physical pain… that’s throwing me off-stride. It hurts to move. It hurts to bend. It hurts to be gracious because that’s extra energy expended for someone else when I don’t feel like I have enough for me, so why bother.

And, the spiritual pain… Have I alluded to that? One of the things I love best about the city is the illusion of self-sufficiency it can provide. One can find distractions anywhere here.

But this is not an illusion I am good at crafting… I’m a storyteller, and I require my solitude like most of my kind, but I’m a social creature, too, and I’ve been bad, for a while now, at cultivating society. That’s worn on me, and over these days of awe, having absented myself from the congregation–I paid for tickets I knew I wasn’t going to use, the reality of my physical pain serving as a solid excuse for not communing–I’ve been facing Yom Kippur on my own.

You know, there’s a reason why you’re not supposed to do that.

Still, I’ve been trying to remember to have compassion.

For others. For the world. For myself.

It’s one of the key bits of wisdom I’ve managed to glean from life, that we must, if we wish to honor that which might be worthy in us, have compassion for all else.

On Yom Kippur, when the Books of Life and Death are sealed for the coming year, we are reminded that to be forgiven, we must forgive, to be granted life, we must grant it. It’s a very wonderfully legalistic quid pro quo system, Judaism, and I love it, but it can bog itself down in its mechanics, and sometimes forget its heart, its spirit, its divine spark–that we must forgive, we must grant life, not because doing so buys us those things in return, but because it’s what we must do to honor whatever the divine is, whatever compassion is.

Compassion has been hard, lately.

Pain makes me small. It makes me mean.

On Yom Kippur, we declare that we have missed the mark and hit–perhaps even aimed at–that which is not true. We admit that we’re not worthy, and we throw ourselves on the mercy, the compassion, of the divine. We are reminded that compassion is shared, and that grace, like mercy, like justice, like life itself, is something that we are given, not because we deserve it, but because it honors the divine.

Yom Kippur helps me remember compassion.

Even through the barbed cloth of physical pain, I’m trying to remember compassion. To suffer with all, and hope, by grace, by god, that we come out of it remembering that all of us carry a divine spark and to honor it, compassion serving best to fan it to flame.

I’m sorry for my meanness, for being small, and letting pain get the best of me. I’ll try harder to fan compassion, and I’ll fail, too, and cut like shards of obsidian and regret, but I’ll try to not enjoy it. I’ll try to reach for compassion and share it. I’ll try to honor the divine in you, in me, in the world. I’ll try to light more candles, and warm more hearts. I’ll try.