Atonement

By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

I am reading a book called Momma Zen Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by Karen Maezen Miller. Last night as I paused to pray and consider that the days are growing shorter, darker, notice that my breath becomes shallower with the crisp cold air, anticipate the approach of the fall equinox, and witness neighbors prepare for Yom Kippur, a chapter, “Magic Words,” in this wonderful book caught my heart. So I share these words of wisdom, of prayer, as we look to atone ourselves with our changing seasons, with our loved ones, with our neighbors, and with ourselves.

Karen Maezen Miller writes about reconciling with her toddler: “We want to end the battle by winning, not by ending. These contrivences begin, ‘I’m sorry, but…’ After the ‘but’ comes self-defense and justification, explanation and blame, a fist in a glove. Then there is the imperial ‘I’m sorry that you feel that way.’ There is no sorry in this kind of sorry, and we know it, but that’s the kind of sorry that we trade in. No wonder hostilities never cease.

“It had been a long time since I had said simply, ‘I’m sorry,’ and let the silence afterward enfold and erase the harm done. But I begin to do it now, because my need to undo is urgent and unquestioned. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say when I’ve buckled and the sky has fallen. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say to someone who has no conceptual understanding of the words. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say to myself. And, miraculously, the world is made right again. The whole world, the only world my daughter and I live in, the fifteen hundred square feet that composes our universe. She holds no grudges; she doesn’t know how. When I say I’m sorry, we can begin anew, awash in love and tenderness toward each other.

“Saying your sorry is a rather miraculous act of atonement, and all the great religions talk up atonement…. Atonement means reconciliation or reparation. Maezumi Roshi, who found wisdom on every page of Webster’s, used to marvel at the very appearance of the word, because there, hidden in plain sight, is the whole enchilada: at-one-ment. Being one with everything. Unified. Harmonious. Being sorry, truly sorry, closes the gap that has grown wide between you and your beloved. The gap doesn’t really exist, but when you think it does, it does. This is your new spiritual practice: saying ‘I’m sorry.'”

Ahhh to make amends with our little ones, the ones who rely on us for so much is a gift of atonement Karen Maezen Miller calls me back to. It allows me to be gentle with my weaknesses, and to love my little ones deeper, fuller, and more. At-one-ment brings¬† oneness with another that brings intimacy, brings love, brings joy. As I go to sleep tonight I whisper my prayers of I’m sorry where I fell short of patience, a whisper of I’m sorry where I was short of perspective, I’m sorry where I was short of joy, and with my I’m sorries I promise to begin anew tomorrow just as the leaves that fall this September will begin anew in the spring.

4 Responses

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  1. Powerful words, “I’m sorry.” Equally powerful, “I forgive.”

  2. Sage words. Never the truer. Thank you Betty Lou.

  3. Love this, Beth. Thank you.

  4. You’re welcome Brigid!

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