Workshop 1: Repentance and Repair in Our Lives and Relationships


  • Chalice or candle and lighter, or LED battery-operated candle
  • Computer with Internet connection
  • Optional: Timer


  • Send an email to participants a week ahead of time. Include the date, time, and location/link for the upcoming meeting.
  • Prepare to lead the group in singing “Come, Come Whoever You Are,” Hymn 188 in Singing the Living Tradition. It is important to use a version that emphasizes the phrase "Though you've broken your vows a thousand times," such as the arrangement by Rev. Lynn Ungarhear it sung by Eleuthera Dicona-Lippert, song-leader and choir director of the Unitarian Church of Montreal.
  • Prepare a document with these suggested community agreements. Be ready to quickly paste this text into the Chat and to screen share the document to help the group tweak the agreements if needed and affirm them in real-time.
    We each promise to:
    • speak from our own experiences and perspectives
    • listen generously to the experiences and perspectives of others
    • resist making assumptions about one another
    • “take space” or “make space” (“move up/move back”) to ensure everyone has opportunities to speak and to listen
    • expect and accept non-closure (questions may linger!)
    • respect the confidentiality of personal information and stories shared here
  • On the UUA website (if you are not here already!) open the UU Common Read Discussion Guide for On Repentance and Repair.
  • Set out a chalice.
  • Open your Zoom meeting 10 minutes before your group’s start time. Enable Live Captioning.

Part I – Meeting Maimonides (75 minutes)

Chalice Lighting (5 minutes)

Say, “Let us open our time together with “Come, Come, Whoever You Are.” Say that the song in our UU hymnbook, Singing the Living Tradition, takes its words from the American poet and translator Coleman Barks, inspired by the 13th century Sufi Islamic scholar and poet, Rumi. Say that a subsequent song arrangement, by the Rev. Lynn Ungar, emphasizes an important phrase that reflects Rumi's Islamic beliefs. The phrase is, "though you've broken your vows a thousand times." It acknowledges that mistakes, including harmful ones, are human nature and it indicates the Muslim belief in a merciful God.

Read the poem:

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come. 
-- Jalāl al-Dīn al-Rūmī (Sufi mystic poet, 1207-1273 CE) 

Then, lead the song. You may wish to listen to a YouTube rendition together, and then sing. Future sessions will open with the same song. If the group will do multiple sessions, it may be worthwhile to take the time to teach it.

Light the chalice.

Introductions and Community Agreement (10 minutes)

Say that you will lead participants to introduce themselves by “Mutual Invitation.” Explain that you will choose someone to go first. That person will introduce themself and then invite another participant to do so.

If Mutual Invitation may be new to any in the group, explain:

Mutual Invitation is a process for sharing power in a group conversation, developed by the Rev. Dr. Eric Law. The facilitator invites the first person to share. That person can share or “pass for now”—but whatever they decide to do, they get to invite the next person. This process continues until everyone who wishes to has spoken. This practice honors different cultures and personality styles in a group while ensuring every person is invited to speak.

When we use Mutual Invitation, don’t worry if you haven’t been called on, or if you can’t remember who has spoken. If you need to know who hasn’t gone yet, you can ask all those who haven’t spoken to raise their hand.

Model a brief self-introduction: Share your name, pronouns, your connection to the gathered group and where you are physically located. If it is already common practice in your faith community, make a land acknowledgement. Then choose a participant to self-introduce. Continue until everyone has introduced themselves.

Say that it is common in UU sharing circles to agree on guidelines for how to be together—a community agreement. Invite the group to agree on guidelines based on some you will propose.

Post the suggested covenant points via shared screen and Chat. Read, or have volunteers read, the points aloud. Lead a process to customize the covenant by asking: Which of these seems good to you? Which do we need to amend? What do we need to add? Note any changes in your document. When the community agreement document is complete, screen-share your edited document and paste the final text in the Chat. Invite participants to voice or signal their agreement.

Keep your community agreement document to revisit at the beginning of subsequent Common Read gatherings.

First Impressions (10 minutes)

Invite the participants to share their general responses to On Repentance and Repair. Offer these prompts:

  • What was one relatable part of the book?
  • What surprised you?
  • What drew you to be part of this Common Read?

Use Mutual Invitation to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute. When all who wish to have spoken, thank participants.


Danya Ruttenberg is a rabbi, offering wisdom from Judaism to a broad audience. She writes (page 16), “This book is for everybody. It is based on Jewish thought, but I am, very intentionally, applying these concepts to secular life and relationships. We’ve all caused harm, we’ve all been harmed, we’ve all witnessed harm… This is, I hope, a way in to the work.”

OPTIONAL: Who Was Maimonides? (15 minutes)

Remind the group that the book is a modern interpretation of the writings of Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar. Ask, and invite “popcorn” responses:

  • What do we know about Maimonides, and the purpose of his writing?
  • What had you heard of Maimonides before?
  • What surprised you about him and his story?

Fill in Maimonides’ background, as needed, from page 22-23 of the book.


In Judaism, the Hebrew Bible is sacred text. Also sacred is the centuries-long, ongoing work of interpreting the text, with the goal of understanding what God wants the Jewish people to do. Maimonides’s writings are a foundational contribution to Jewish thought. With her book, Rabbi Ruttenberg interprets Maimonides’ interpretations for modern times, continuing a sacred Jewish tradition.


  • In Unitarian Universalism, we, too, keep searching for truth, wisdom, and meaning so that we can choose actions that speak our faith. What are YOUR sources (Sources)?

Invite participants to reflect:

  • What is one of your guiding sources?
  • What is one example of when you used that guidance?

Give participants up to three minutes to reflect silently. Suggest they journal their thoughts. Regather the group and use Mutual Invitation for any volunteers to share briefly.

Ask the following. Say that you are inviting participants to become aware of any questions they have without expectation that there are answers in the room!

  • What questions do you bring, as you consider how a 12th century Jewish philosopher may have wisdom for you?

The Work (15 minutes)


  • Without opening your book, can you think of what Maimonides’ five steps are?

Lead a popcorn brainstorm. Then, challenge the group further: Ask them to recall what order the steps are in.

  1. Naming and owning harm
  2. Starting to change
  3. Restitution and accepting consequences
  4. Apology
  5. Making different choices

Affirm the five steps in order. Then say:

Throughout the book, Rabbi Ruttenberg gives examples of real life situations where people responsible for harm did, or did not, perform actions of repentance and repair. Which stories from the book spring to mind?

Allow a few popcorn responses. Invite the group to describe the various steps people completed in the repentance and repair stories they remember.

Then ask what participants feel or think about the steps, in general. If you have a large group, prepare to form smaller groups (three to five if possible) and explain what's going to happen (e.g., breakout groups).

Use Mutual Invitation to invite responses. Offer these prompts before inviting the first person to share:

  • Which steps seem hard?
  • Why does apology come near the end?
  • Do you hold an idea of a step of repentance or repair that has been left out? Why do you think it’s not here?
  • Think about a time you have used some of these steps. Or, having read this book, think of a situation where you could use them. What questions come up for you?
  • Have you ever felt frozen by a sense you have done harm, waiting for someone to tell you?

Conclude the discussion. You may wish to use the following words. Or, simply move to the next activity.

The first step of naming the harm may be the hardest. Sometimes we struggle internally, perhaps making excuses to ourselves as to what we did and why.

What’s Not the Work? Forgiveness (15 minutes)

Invite the group to talk about how “forgiveness” is handled in the book. Ask what participants recall; allow popcorn responses.

Remind the group that Maimonides offered instructions for seeking forgiveness. Say:

Your initial apology (if not accepted) must be followed by returning to the victim three more times to try and apologize, with others in your community to help. This prescription is well known in Judaism. It is part of the tradition of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But what happens next?

As Rabbi Ruttenberg translates Maimonides, “If [the victim] is still not appeased, [the perpetrator] should leave them alone, and that person who did not pardon is now the sinner.

Then, remind the group that Rabbi Ruttenberg disagrees with Maimonides on this. For her, forgiveness is NOT the point. Say, in these words or your own:

She asserts that a victim has absolutely no requirement to participate in the repair work or even to accept an apology. She believes that our society is too focused on forgiveness as the right thing to do and the key to healing. She believes this value is rooted deep in Christianity, the dominant faith of our nation’s founding and a major influence on our shared American culture. In many Christian denominations, Jesus is a role model for forgiveness. In some, forgiving others is seen as necessary for salvation.

Ruttenberg is adamant that we must support the harmed party without pressuring them to forgive. She urges us to focus instead on the work of the harmdoer, because that work is the key to healing this situation and preventing future harm. And indeed, it is the way forward for the harmdoer’s own wholeness and, in many cases, the way for them to return to the community. She says we must usher the harmdoer through a process of transformation and repentance for the larger social good, as well as for their own sake.

Invite the group into several minutes of reflection. Suggest they journal a response to one of the following questions. Say that, afterward, volunteers will be asked to share.

  • When is a time you forgave someone, or felt pressure to do so, and how did that feel?
  • When is a time you asked forgiveness for harm you had caused? Were you forgiven, or not? How did that feel? What did you gain by being forgiven? What, if anything, might you have lost?

After two or three minutes, or when people seem ready, bring the group back together. Invite volunteers to share some experiences and thoughts around forgiveness. Choose a volunteer to speak first, and from there, use Mutual Invitation.

Closing (5 minutes)

If the group will meet again, remind participants of the day, time, and location. Tell them what to expect via email, and when (e.g., link to the Zoom meeting).

Set aside the covenant that the participants affirmed so you can post and quickly review it at the start of any subsequent meeting.

Offer these closing words:

In the book, the author says that repentance, or, tshuvah, is like the Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken pottery is repaired with gold. Kintsugi is an art form that makes something new and beautiful of a damaged object without trying to conceal the breaks.

Rabbi Ruttenberg says, "You can never unbreak what you have broken. But with the sincere and deep work of transformation, acts of repair have the potential to make something new."

Extinguish the chalice and thank participants.

Part II – Maimonides in Practice (75 minutes)

Chalice Lighting and Introductions (10 minutes)

If your group is returning for a second gathering, welcome participants and light your chalice. Use the opening words from the American poet and translator Coleman Barks, inspired by the 13th century Sufi mystic poet, Rumi, as you did in the opening workshop; read the poem and/or sing, taking care to include the phrase "...broken your vows a thousand times."

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come. 
-- Jalāl al-Dīn al-Rūmī (Sufi mystic poet, 1207-1273 CE) 

Invite participants to re-introduce themselves (or introduce, if anyone is new). Ask for name, pronoun, and if folx are new brief mentions of connections to the gathered group, and if they are online their location and any land acknowledgment if this is customary in your faith community.

Then, ask how folks have been since your last gathering. Use Mutual Invitation for this brief check-in. Then, using Mutual Invitation again, invite participants to share briefly what thoughts they have had related to On Repentance and Repair since your last gathering.

Reflection on Covenants: To Whom or What Are We Accountable? (25 minutes)

Revisit the agreements created at the first gathering. Share the agreements document on the screen and post the text of it into the Chat. Invite participants to suggest any changes they feel it may need and lead the group to decide; make changes on your document.

Say that the set of agreements participants have made is very relevant to the book. Say:

In making our agreements, we stated and affirmed our expectations of how we will behave toward one another. Another way to say this is that we have made a covenant with one another. In Unitarian Universalism, a covenant clarifies mutual obligations. Harm is often caused when we fail to live up to those obligations—and much repair work may be needed.

A covenant can have explicit rules about behavior—do’s and don’ts. It can also be a higher covenant, where rules may not be listed but shared values are stated or at least well understood. And there are times when we interact with others without any mutual agreement on how to behave.

With a round of Mutual Invitation, ask participants for examples in any aspect of life where some kind of covenant sets a behavioral expectation.

Then, say that the idea of covenant is important in both Unitarian Universalism and in Judaism, though it does not mean exactly the same thing. Say:

As UUs, as members of congregations, we are often asked to affirm the promises we make to one another, in the form of a covenant, as we are doing now. Our congregation may have its own written covenant—a statement of members' mutual obligations.

Traditionally, Judaism rests on a covenant between the Jewish people and God that includes both obligations to the divine and interpersonal obligations. A way to keep in covenant with God is to keep in covenant with one another. In the biblical Book of Exodus, Moses has the prophetic role of bringing the specifics of these obligations, the Torah—”teaching,” it means in Hebrew—that message to the Jewish people.


While some UUs are also Jewish, and some belong to other faiths, it’s fair to say that as Unitarian Universalists we hold a diversity of religious identities, spiritual practices, and practices, and beliefs about God. Then, what higher purpose holds our communities together? Who, or what, guides us to be accountable to others?

Allow “popcorn” responses. You might suggest possibilities like Beloved Community, Love, the Unitarian Universalist Principles, or the seventh UU Principle of interdependence.

Now ask:

  • What covenantal communities do we belong to, outside of the UU congregation? What communities are we part of where obligations are mutually understood? How are we accountable to each other in these communities?

Invite the group into a five-minute time of reflection to consider their personal covenants. Give participants the option of talking in a dyad or triad (in breakout groups) or taking silent time to journal their responses.

Offer the group the following prompts. Post them in the Chat. Say that after reflection you will invite volunteers to briefly share:

  • What covenants are you part of? To whom are you accountable?
  • What are the covenant guidelines? In what ways, spoken or unspoken, are you and other members accountable to one another?
  • When someone’s actions are outside the covenant, how is accountability addressed?

Give participants a solid five minutes. Then, bring the group back together and use Mutual Invitation for volunteers to share one insight that came from their reflection.

Guided Meditation: Retracing an Unfortunate Path (20 minutes)

Tell the group you would like to invite them into an embodied exercise focused on Maimonides’ directive to begin to change (Step 2). Say:

In order to begin to change, we need to go honestly and deeply into what we did. Although it can be painful, embarrassing, etc. we will have to understand how the harm we did happened.

Invite participants to sit comfortably, turn off their camera if they wish to, and close their eyes if they are comfortable doing so. Lead the group to take a few breaths together. Then say:

Taking care to be gentle with yourself, let your mind go back to a harm you caused. Choose something you are ready to think about today. Bring back the circumstances and situation where you acted in a way that caused harm. Be gentle with yourself as you recall the moment. You can also be courageous here. This journey is for you. You will not be asked to share where you went!

You are doing the work of repentance and repair, right now. Later, you may decide to make an apology. But first, the deep work. To truly repent, to begin meaningful repair, you’ll need to begin to change. How can you start?

As you are able, turn your head as if you were looking over your shoulder. Go back into the past before the moment of harm, your past that led up to it. Go back with openness and curiosity. If you want to begin to change, you have to know how that moment happened, what assumptions, or carelessness, or earlier mistakes led you into the action that caused harm. You need to look back so you can make different choices going forward.

Imagine traveling backward to a fork in the road. Here is where you made a choice that you might make differently in the future. Maybe there is more than one fork in the road behind you, multiple choices that led you toward doing harm. It is now a time to be curious. Were you following a false belief? Were you operating out of fear? Did you neglect to see someone’s humanity? How do you need to change in order to ensure you don’t cause the same sort of harm again?

Remember to breathe while you’re reflecting. You are capable of transformation. You can make a change.

Now, you’re invited to close your reflection. Take a moment to feel how you are in your body right now. Sometimes we carry difficult feelings in our bodies. Shake off heavy feelings with a yawn, a stretch, whatever you need.

Call the group back together. Invite those whose cameras are off to turn them back on. Ask for volunteers to share—not where they went on the journey, that remains personal. Instead, invite them to share how it felt to turn back.. Use these prompt:

  • Was it easy, or difficult, to focus on where you could change, rather than focusing on getting forgiveness?
  • Can this exercise help you in the future keep yourself more whole, if and when you do harm again?


All of us will likely do harm at some future point! Neither UUism nor Judaism speaks of original sin or asks for perfection. Both are humanist faiths that offer us communities, values, and practices for continually making ourselves and our world better.

Faith in Practice (15 minutes)


Maimonides’ instructions for repentance are a good example of how Judaism emphasizes the PRACTICE of faith. Our actions matter. Faith is shown by how we behave, not by good intentions or strict beliefs. In this way, Judaism has much in common with Unitarian Universalism.

Ask the group for examples where Unitarian Universalists sometimes express our faith through action. Invite "popcorn" responses. Say examples can be local, current, historic, personal. If needed, prompt with the example of the UUA’s Side with Love work, which organizes our people in every state to show up for the protection of LGBTQ children and adults, antiracism, climate justice, economic equity, reproductive justice, and more.

Make the point that, often, Unitarian Universalists undertake justice work out of desire to repair harms. Ask the group if they have had that experience. If they have, invite them to consider, in their justice work, in what ways were they aiming for a similar sort of repentance to which Maimonides’ five steps lead. If they wish to reflect further, ask, How did it go?

Then say:

In a conversation with the UUA, Rabbi Ruttenberg gave some context about what can be meant by “Jewish practice.” She said:

“There are many expressions of Judaism today.

“Jewishness is based on a concept of ‘peoplehood’ that is difficult to translate to contemporary, non-Jewish frameworks. It is not only a religion. Many people who identify as Jewish are secular, while retaining their citizenship, so to speak, in a large, multiracial, multi-ethnic people that spans the globe. Religious practice can involve a wide range of expression, from more traditional adherence to Jewish practices to more creative explorations.

“While ritual observance takes the foreground in some Jews’ lives more than in others, Judaism is generally understood to also encompass not only ritual observance but our interpersonal ethical practices lived out in the world.”

Then say:

Judaism lives in the real world. As the book makes clear, it’s realistic and expected that people will hurt one another. And yet, Maimonides offers a practice for that very situation. As Rabbi Ruttenberg writes, Maimonides “gives a clear, systematic guide for not only repairing harm but for becoming the kind of person who will not cause harm in the future.” (p. 23)

There are always times when we feel we want to change. To become more and more a person who is capable of transformational repair, to change in repentance for a particular harm we’ve caused, do we just have to start doing it? And how?

Psychology says that we can learn to do things in a new way by practicing it.

Ask the group:

  • When was a time you used a religious, personal, or spiritual practice to change yourself? How has a practice changed you?

Offer several minutes, as much as participants seem to need, for journaling a response. Then, use Mutual Invitation to invite volunteers to share. Be mindful of the time remaining; you may wish to offer a time limit in your invitation to share.

Closing (5 minutes)

If the group will meet again, remind participants of the date, day of the week, time, and place to reconvene.

  • If the group will next meet for Workshop 2, agree that you or a volunteer will locate covenant(s) of your congregation and bring these to the meeting.
  • If the group will next meet for Workshop 3, invite participants to come ready to pool knowledge of the justice priorities of the congregation and what actions of service or advocacy congregational and community members are currently doing. In the spirit of “Beyond” you may wish to do Workshop 3 with people from outside your congregation!
  • Invite participants to explore the video resources posted on the UUA’s Common Read page. If you wish, invite them to view specific video resources before the next meeting. Make sure all participants have the Common Read web address (

Offer the following closing words, from page 60 of the book. Say these words are the author quoting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, whom many Unitarian Universalists know by his walking with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma:

Should we…despair because of being unable to retain perfect purity? We should, if perfection were our goal. However, we are not obliged to be perfect once and for all, but only to rise again beyond the level of the self. Perfection is divine, and to make it a goal of [humans] is to call on [human beings] to be divine. All we can do is try to wring our hearts clean in contrition. To be contrite at our failures is holier than to be complacent in perfection.

Extinguish the chalice and thank participants.