We Begin Again in Love

We Begin Again in Love

Last December, a few days before Christmas, I reluctantly navigated to a suburban shopping mall to complete an errand for someone I love. It was a Saturday afternoon, and traffic was rude and unrelenting. All around me was a rush of vehicles and bodies, a rush of shopping lists and materialism. I judged the drivers around me for embracing and perpetuating this lifestyle, and I hated myself for being part of it. I couldn’t wait to get home.  

At a busy intersection in one of several left-turn lanes, a car in front of me stopped and didn’t move through an entire light cycle. Drivers behind me leaned on their horns and weaseled their way into the other left-turn lanes. I watched another driver get out, walk up to the stopped vehicle, speak to the stopped driver, and turn back around.  

I rolled down my window. “Everything okay?” I asked them as they made their way back to their own car.  

“Battery’s dead. She’s got her kids in the car,” they replied. “I guess I’ll have to push them.”  

“Oh, no,” I said stupidly. “Good luck.” 

I saw an opening in the turn lane beside me, and I took it. I drove away, leaving the woman, her kids, and the good Samaritan on their own.  

I regretted it immediately. Why didn’t I stop to help? I could help push a vehicle. I could entertain a couple of kids. I could have parked my car and walked back to help. I had jumper cables in my car. I wasn’t on a strict timeline. Instead, I could only think of my desire to get out of there.  

I felt guilty for weeks. Months later, I cringe as I write this post. 

Some of you may be inclined to assure me that I did the right thing by not stopping. Maybe I would have caused more harm by helping – putting myself and others at risk in a dangerous traffic situation. The fact of my stopping to help isn’t the point. I was fixated on myself and my needs in that moment, and I could not spare a moment of compassion to even consider stopping. 

In the religious paradigm in which I was raised, my selfishness in the moment was a sin against God. In that paradigm, God instructed human beings to “be kind to one another” and “look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others,” and because I failed to do those things, I had failed God. The solution for such a failing is a simple confession to God, followed by the reassurance of absolution by God.  

Poof. Absolved. As if the sin never happened.  

Today, I view my selfishness not as a sin against God, but as a sin against my fellow humans. In my Unitarian Universalist framework, I view my actions as an offense against that woman, her children, and the good Samaritan because I disregarded my responsibility to the living, breathing collective body of humanity. We affirm an interdependent web that connects us all; yet in my haste and disdain, I failed to live out my responsibility and connection to all of the drivers around me. 

What, then, are my next steps forward? Generally, asking forgiveness of other human beings is difficult. Asking forgiveness requires vulnerability; acceptance and forgiveness are not guaranteed. And after forgiveness is granted and received, the process of repair and restoration begins, a process both daunting and winding without a clear roadmap.  

I would prefer a path of absolution. Poof. It never happened.  

But how do I confess, apologize, and ask forgiveness of … all of humanity? 

Earlier this week, I attended an Ash Wednesday service at a small Episcopal church attached to a neighborhood food pantry. There were 6 other people present.  

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, Lent is introduced with some historical context as “a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the church.”  

I read that line again, because it wasn’t what I expected. In this text, Lent is about restoration to each other. Not to God.

It’s an intentional time set aside for self-examination and repentance and reflecting on our mortal, imperfect, striving, struggling selves.  

It’s considering what we owe to each other.
It’s affirming our interdependency and our need to forgive ourselves and each other.
It’s beginning again in love.  

There is no absolution. There’s only forgiveness, restoration, and bonds of love that we forge anew. 

And so I’m closing this very belated In Between Sundays post with these lines from Rob Eller-Isaacs’ “Liturgy of Atonement” which we often sing as a hymn at UUCC around the time of Yom Kippur, another religious observance of repentance, reflection, and forgiveness.  

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others…
We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love. 

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone…
We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love. 

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit…
We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love. 

For losing sight of our unity…
We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love. 

For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness…
We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love. 


  1. Stuart J TenHoor

    Thanks Valerie for sharing your story and thoughts. We’ve all been there, maybe not on the highways, but certainly somewhere. Forgiveness and love and starting anew is a great mantra. Thanks for re-focusing me today.

  2. Dex


    Thank you for sharing. I too have been in your shoes when I could have helped, but was too caught up in keeping to my “schedule” that I didn’t.

    It’s a shame that I wear, which I hope to atone by being more present and willing to help others in need. I’m far from living up to my ideal self, but I still try.

    In Community,


  3. Jing


    Thank you for sharing. I remember vividly that one warm day in summer when I was driving my daughter to her ice skating class, I saw an aged gentleman walking with his hand up. I asked my daughter, “is he hitchhiking?” I seldom saw people doing that and wasn’t sure. My daughter confirmed. “maybe he just get too tired from walking…” By the end of the conversation we already passed the gentlemen and I continued on my way to the ice rink. After dropping her off at ice rink, I did look for him on my way back but did not see him. We talked about him later. “We should have stopped”, “maybe someone else picked him up”, “I hope he is OK”. The discussion itself did make me feel better. I also felt more prepared to stop next time in similar situation.

    Thank you for sharing the “Liturgy of Atonement”: we begin again in love. This remind me of Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra, chapter VI.
    In Chinese, the repentance “懺悔” has two characters, “repentance and reform” – “repent of former errors”, and “reform and refrain from future transgressions”.
    This might be what you called ‘restoration’.
    I agree that the process of reformation/restoration is not always easy. It is quite difficult not to make the same mistake the second time!

    I will always remember “we begin again in love!”



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