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    Oscar Wilde & Yom Kippur

    Oscar Wilde arrived in the United States in the 1880s. At the customs barrier he was asked if he had anything to declare. “Only my genius,” he replied.

    There can be reason for criticising him on many counts including this exchange. Others might have said, “Only my brains” or “Only my talents.” Both would have been rather softer answers but the message would have been the same.

    The incident comes to mind whenever I think of Yom Kippur. God says, “What have you to declare?” The traditional answer is the Viddui, the confession: Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu… “We have been guilty, we have been disloyal, we have robbed…”

    Sometimes, though, “in my wild erratic fancy” (to use an Australian poet’s phrase), I think of another answer. I couch it in the positive. God asks what I have to declare, and I tell Him my good points. I don’t lay claim to genius, but I do say something about brains and talents, and I add my assessment of my life’s experiences plus my reading of my set of standards and values. Naturally I include something of what I have tried to do for other people over the years. Then of course I stand by and wonder what God will say in response.

    I must tell you that I did try this tack one year, and what God told me was this: “OK, OK, you’re a good person – but what have you done this year to become a better person?” That’s what should really hit home with all of us – “What have you done this year to become a better person?”

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