Summer in Maine is “time out of time,” with vacation’s release from school and work, and lovely, long days of sun and outdoor pleasures. In September we begin again at school and work, getting back into the groove of daily responsibilities. Our official calendar declares Jan. 1 to be New Year’s Day, but fall’s resumption of “real time” feels to many like the start of a new year.

In religious life, this is reflected in the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year”), this year on Sept. 14-15. The observance celebrates the sovereignty of God, the creation of humankind, and the relationship between them. Celebrations include breaking a ritual fast with apple dipped in honey, with wishes for a sweet new year.

It is significant that this new beginning is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance (Sept. 22-23 on our secular calendar). This second of the High Holidays pairs the start of the new year with careful self-examination, penitence, and atonement for wrongdoing.

Whether in September or January, religiously or in personal reflection, there’s a lot to be said for starting fresh periodically, and for doing so with careful re-examination of our own choices and habits and acceptance of responsibility for the ways in which we have erred or fallen short.

Though out of vogue, repentance is an important element of new beginnings. “Repent” means literally “to think again,” presumably to do things differently going forward. Its unfashionable nature today is seen in the pseudo-apologies by public figures who’ve lied, cheated, or stolen, obliquely acknowledging the act, but without any real admission of guilt or assumption of responsibility. “Mistakes were made… I’m sorry if people were hurt…but I’m moving on…”

Much more courageous – and effective – is honest admission of fault, assumption of responsibility, and intention to make reparation. “I was wrong. I am sorry that I caused harm. I will do what I can to repair the harm for which I am responsible.”

Heading back to school or work, many reflect on what went well last year and what did not. We may consider all the players, but it’s tempting to skip over the uncomfortable consideration of our own responsibility, and how we will need to repent, to think again, changing our own behavior in hopes of a better outcome.

Wisdom is often found in the spaces between things, and the High Holidays are a good example.

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are often called “the Days of Awe.” Perhaps this is because it is awe-inspiring to reflect on our mistakes and realize that in a new beginning, we have another chance to get it right, to be a better person in the future. But “same-old, same-old” does not inspire awe; only real repentance and a new beginning in relationships made whole can do that.

And awe matters. Recent studies from the Universities of California at Berkeley and Irvine demonstrate that experiencing awe, whether in a religious sense or in humanistic experiences of the beauty of nature, the wonder of good fortune, or the restoration of a relationship, correlates with greater generosity and more ethical behavior. The right-sized sense of self that is achieved through the recognition of our faults and the acceptance of responsibility for them actually helps to make us better people, making a better new start at whatever we undertake.

With thanks to our Jewish sisters and brothers here in Maine and around the world, let’s resolve in new beginnings genuinely to reflect on our mistakes, sincerely to apologize and make reparations where we can, and joyfully to experience the awe of a truly fresh start.

We’ll find ourselves better, more generous, more ethical human beings, and that is very sweet indeed! Happy New Year!

Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.