March 18, 2014

Share My Faith Journey? Maybe. Maybe Not.


At the end of the day, the way I share my spiritual journey is by making my life a testimonial.

I don’t have to witness, convert, convince or persuade. All I have to do is live what I say I believe, every day.

My extended family is made up of atheists and Jews. My working life is spent in among Christians. In my internet world, everyone seems to be a vegan and a yogi. I am none of those things.

Finding myself without inspiration, I polled the members of a Facebook group about topics that might interest them. One of them wrote this: “Interfaith issues. How to find and blend your own sense of spirituality.” Another wrote this: “How to share one’s journey without being obnoxious.”

Dear reader, I laughed. Not at the people who asked the question, but at the sheer, cosmic perfection of the inquiries at this moment in my life.

I was born to a Jewish mother (who believed in God) and a lapsed Catholic father (who does not). Their deal: no established religion at home, all belief systems respected. I went to mass with one grandmother and Catholic Christianity was incense, choral music and mystery. I celebrated holidays with my mother’s family and Judaism was family, food and a kind of dark, yearning stubbornness of spirit.

My brother and I were given the gift of choice. He is maybe an agnostic, possibly an atheist, a doctor and a scientist. It’s worth noting that despite our lack of religion in the home, and the fact that my brother chose a completely different spiritual path, our values are extraordinarily similar: family, service to others, compassion and justice.

I experimented with everything, including Judaism, Catholicism, Wicca and straight-up Protestant Christianity. My father told me Greek myths over breakfast when I was in preschool, I read the Tao Te Ching in high school, learned to read Tarot cards and dipped into astrology in college, and read the Bible cover to cover, picking things up as I rolled through cultures and traditions. What I picked depended largely on what movie I saw, how much I loved my Japanese History professor, or the guy I was chasing at any given time.

Sometimes, many times, I envied those who had a solid and consistent belief in something. It seemed to give them peace, stability and a real cushion against the sharp things in life.

There were things of value in almost every spiritual path I had studied, but there was not one that felt right to me as a way to live my life, forsaking all others. I believed in the power of nature, and that maybe what people call “God” can also be seen in every tree, rock and cloud. I admired Jesus tremendously as a teacher of compassion, forgiveness and love. I loved hymns and chants, the power of voices raised in prayer, The Sermon on the Mount, The Wiccan Rede and the Mourner’s Kaddish. I felt alternately blessed with an embarrassment of riches, and flaky because I couldn’t seem to settle.

Honestly, because my parents gave me the gift of choice, I never fully understood why it was necessary to pick just one path, not only to choose it but to reject all other paths as “wrong,” and possibly dangerous. Wrong and dangerous seem to lead to crusades, inquisitions and genocide.

The teachings of Jesus work smashingly well with those of The Buddha, and reverence for nature unifies everything from Taoism to Wicca. I am, today, as uncomfortable with lefty Christian-bashing as I am with super conservative attacks on anything that isn’t Christian. A belief system can be a powerful force for good, or a tool for control and division.

When I found Buddhism, it fit like an old shoe. There certainly are man-made trappings available, but they aren’t necessary. I pray and meditate every day, I try to be present, and I have the delightful charter of spreading compassion and eschewing judgment in the framework of a very real moral construct. I am the solution to the problems in my life, not asking someone or something else to fix or change anything. It’s up to me to accept things the way they are, or get up and change the things that need changing.

I like it that way.

In my head, in my heart, in my home I am comfortable with what I believe. I still gravitate to all things spiritual including chakras, The Gnostic Gospels, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, St. Francis and Ayurveda.  Buddhism is, maybe the rock of my spiritual life but there are barnacles that become a part of me, that fortify me and make me stronger. That, maybe, is the answer to the question about blending my own kind of spirituality.

As for that other thing, the part about “sharing my journey,” it’s trickier.

I used to think, maybe right up to this moment, that my policy was basically “don’t ask, don’t tell” unless I’m writing. And mostly, nobody asks.

When it does come up, I am neither surprised nor offended by the responses. A member of the congregation at work asked me about the Tara I wear around my neck; when I explained it to him he told me he would pray for my salvation. I’m pretty sure my brother’s family believes I’m a woo-woo wacko, although they love me (and my niece bought me an awesome Buddha T-shirt for Christmas). When I wrote a post about exploring the chakras, one commenter was aghast that I could ever have questioned their existence or validity.

At the end of the day, the way I share my spiritual journey is by making my life a testimonial. I don’t have to witness, convert, convince or persuade. All I have to do is live what I say I believe, every day. That’s my “sharing,” and it works for this me, no matter where I am.

And if someone asks, if they see in me something that ignites a flame of hope or curiosity, I will sit down with them over a cup of chai and we’ll talk.

Otherwise, I stay with this journey, embodying my beliefs, knowing that I need no one to stamp my passport.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Cornelia Kopp 

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