Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sometimes I Wonder if God Believes in Me


My brother tells me that our cousin's son has become an Orthodox Jew. He has committed to an arranged marriage in Jerusalem, which will take place this month.

He used to be an actor.

The young man, J, met a Rabbi a few years ago who introduced him to the "Shuva" movement, which apparently means the "return" or the "answer," and is intended to bring secular young people back into the religious tradition.

J's bride-to-be was chosen for him by the Orthodox community in Israel. I don't know if they have ever met.

Everything in me recoils at the idea of allowing others to make the most important decision of ones life. My mistakes, marital and otherwise, were mine. The idea of marrying for anything other than love is deeply threatening to me.

When I read of women being married off to consolidate land holdings or for any kind of family advantage, economic or otherwise, it shocks me. I know that so-called "romantic love" is a relatively new concept in the world and that in many places it still does not exist. But it should, damn it. It should.

I cannot even fathom the degree of trust a person would have to have in her parents and in God to abdicate responsibility for choosing the person with whom to live out ones life, every day of it. I would not be capable of getting into bed with someone I did not find highly attractive, who could make me laugh, and who shared my most important values.

Judaism has traditionally had three major divisions: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Plus the one my parents subscribed to, which I always called Resigned.

My brother and I were raised with no religious practice other than being kept home from school for the High Holy Days. The family credo was that we were "Just American." I regarded those conspicuous absences from school as an embarrassment, even a punishment, and generally experienced Judaism as a lack of something, rather than the rich tradition it surely is.

We did not attend Sunday School or Hebrew School, nor did we have the traditional coming-of-age ceremonies at age 13. My parents' participation in Christmas was half-hearted. We had no tree or lights, yet presents were exchanged. We knew nothing of Hannukah.

I was given an Easter basket once or twice, but never associated it with a cute, fluffy animal that hopped. Not that the peeps and jelly beans were not yummy anyway. They just had no attachment to anything remotely Animal, Vegetable or Biblical.

I was fascinated with Catholicism. Their churches had gorgeous stained glass windows and glorious pageantry. I was especially enamored of the "bridal dresses" little girls wore at age 6 for their First Communions. I lusted for a white dress and veil, and patent leather maryjanes.

On Sundays, when all my friends wore their shiny shoes and pretty dresses to church, I skulked around the neighborhood in jeans and sweatshirts, feeling like a pariah. I always welcomed Mondays because I fit in again.

It did not escape my attention that Catholics enjoyed a number of Saints' Days, for which they were actually excused from school.

I informed the principal that my parents were Jewish and Catholic, one of each, and that they wanted me to observe all their combined holidays. He bought this wild fabrication, and for several years, I attended church on Saints' Days with my friends while my parents kept me home on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, although we never attended a synagogue. On Protestant holidays, the schools were closed.

It was a lovely state of affairs for truants.

This delightful existence continued until the Ash Wednesday I met my mother on the street. I was walking with a group of Catholic kids, and we all had ashes on our foreheads.

To protect the faint of heart, I won't go into details here. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. And the upshot was that my exquisite dalliance with Catholicism was abruptly canceled.

In Confession, I would murmur, "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I am not a Catholic." And the priest would assign me Hail Mary's and Our Fathers as atonement. I read a dog-eared Catechism in my room at home, memorizing the questions and answers, which didn't always seem to match up. I attributed this to my own ignorance and lack of indoctrination as I did not have the benefits of a Catholic home.

I finally decided that organized religion was not for me as my beliefs were an amalgam of ideas from many religions. The system that comes closest to the mark is Buddhism, yet I know that Buddhist nuns are not treated as well as their male counterparts. This offends me as much as the patriarchal practices of Judaism and any other system which does not consider women as valuable as men.

All religions have rules and dogma. Being human, we all break rules sometimes, and dogma can trip us up. This causes guilt, which doesn't really further anyone's quest to function on a higher plane. Some religions have a political bent as well, which seems inconsistent with God's will.

After searching for answers for many years, I have concluded that while all religions which teach ethical behavior are good, the answers we seek really lie within us. Truth is where we stand to look at a thing, and our own eyes, hearts and experiences instill our deepest values.

I think the creed that can unify us all is the one which practices compassion for all. It has no name, but it has roots in many traditions. Perhaps it should just be called "Lovingkindness."

God knows there are already enough religions.

28 comments:

Lex said...

Amen, Sister.

I love this post as it gives us another glimpse into the person that is Heartinsanfrancisco. I know your mom about died when she saw your ashes on your forehead.

Your comments about the novelty of romantic love reminds me of what is at the heart of my struggle to decide what I believe. It's so easy to jump on the bandwagon of the times in which we live, but when we consider our perspectives, in light of the broader course of history, some of the modern ideas seem so trivial and others so much more profound.

We have evolved and continue to evolve as humans and one's belief system has to keep time with that evolution. Some criticize that notion as relativism. I disagree. It's RELEVANTism is you ask me. And that matters. The idea of truth depending on one's point of view gets the same unfair criticism, I think.

I really regret the days that I spent claiming to have cornered the market on truth.

Thanks for this.

Thailand Gal said...

I don't recall who said this but someone once said, "Kindness is my religion."

You know, it's really odd but I think all of us need varying degrees of community. Some of us thrive in absolute freedom and some of us thrive in a community that provides some guidance and some like a more fundamentalist, strongly controlled community with lots of rules and regulations.

The community I chose.. or culture, if you prefer.. is one that has a good combination of all three. There are some rules that are absolute. (Showing respect to elders, as an example). The customs provide guidance on some of the fundamental issues. It's comfortable. There's also a lot of individual freedom and most people can't be bothered paying attention to what others do. In other words, there are expected behaviors and as long as those are respected, the rest is pretty well left to the individual.

If I had a community that I trusted absolutely, knew they came from concern for me rather than their own needs and agendas, I would absolutely trust their guidance on big life decisions, including arranged marriage. There's a certain security in being a part of a community and knowing someone's history within that community.

One of my cousins was married in the mass marriage of Moonies back in the 80s. They are still married.

There's something to be said for choosing to make something work.

But then, as you know, I don't have much faith in "romantic love".

See? Told you I was controversial. LOL


Peace,

~Chani

goodthomas said...

It is 6pm on a Thursday evening and I am tired from the day, one filled with the usual demands of a work day.

This post filled me up, in a very good way. I loved to read your history, your journey, your experiences. I shook my head as a former Catholic, as one who has drifted and searched and . . . wanted.

I could not agree more with those last three paragraphs. I like ""Lovingkindness" and shall start a church right here, in my heart.

Thank you, wise woman.

EsLocura said...

wonderful post. I think Mother Teresa
said "We can do no great things; only small things with great love." I try like hell to live as close to that as I can. same days with success, and other days .. well ...other days I try again.

thethinker said...

I have never really been able to understand the whole arranged marriage thing. I even had a friend who informed me that her parents were still into that tradition, and that her husband had already been chosen for her. I asked her if she knew him and she couldn't claim to know anything more than a name and a location. Strangely, she's okay with it.

monicker said...

Nice, very nice.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Lexie,

I love "relevantism." Love it. R yu 1 of them filosifer dudes?

None of us has cornered the market on truth. Which is a good thing, because there's always more to learn if we're still looking.

Chani,

The Dalai Lama says that compassion is his religion. He is one of my role models, as is Mother Teresa. I am not likely to replace either of them anytime soon.

I was entranced with your comments on the varying degrees of community we form. I think my chosen one is not at either end of the scale as I do not have a philosophy of life slightly to the left of whoopee, nor do I consider the 10 Commandments the 10 Suggestions.

However, I am not naturally submissive and have always had problems with anyone making decisions for me. (Of course this goes back to trust. There have been very few people in my life whose love I trusted enough.)

I truly am a romantic, but I agree that we choose to make our relationships work or not. I think where we differ is that I require that spark or chemistry to be there in the first place. If it isn't, I can't do it.

Thomas,

I have come to look forward to your comments because you always say something wonderful.

Thank you.

Eslocura,

Mother Teresa was a very wise and beautiful soul. Knowing that there are people like her gives us all something magnificent to strive for.

I don't think it matters to what degree we succeed. It's important that we try, and as you say, try again.

Thinker,

I find that shocking, too. Especially in someone your age living in America. But to those who practice this system, allowing young, inexperienced people to make important decisions is equally shocking.

In such cultures, the individual is a part of a larger body and has both more and less importance than in ours. Since the community is closely knit, each member's decisions affect everyone.

I do like the feeling of belonging that such people must enjoy, but would have a hard time giving up my autonomy.

Monicker,

Thank you for reading it.

Thailand Gal said...

Heart, I get you. I get what you are saying. I've found over the years that a lot of my trouble personally was in not having enough guidance from those more experienced and wiser than me. Growing up like a weed has its downfalls and I sought out something that would give me mooring. Been through everything from fundamentalist religion to EST, Mindspring, Science of Mind, you-name-it, and never found anything fulfilling because much of it provided too little relevant guidance and the former was too harsh and guilt-producing. Shaming never works.

I am the farthest thing from a romantic ~ but I do believe in meaning ~ and I believe in contentment.

Autonomy is also a continuum. At one time I had complete automony ~ and that's just as bad as too little.

So... as you said.. and others have said... it's all about balance.

I agree with you completely about the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa. They are both role models for me as well. :)


Peace,

~Chani

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani,

Can you define "guidance?" My parents believed that they gave me plenty of guidance, but in my view, it was domination. Like everything, it is up for interpretation.

I agree that those who attempt to control with guilt are doomed to failure. And the controllees don't do very well either.

It sounds as if we are both searchers. I have also tried on many different religions and philosophies before concluding that "there's no place like home." It all begins and ends within ourselves. How we interact with the world is determined by how we define ourselves in the privacy of our own souls.

It never occurred to me that you didn't believe in meaning. I read your words every day, and everything you write is about meaning. Finding it, living it, sharing it.

Contentment is a realistic goal, while "happiness," which implies a state of constant bliss, is not. I think that we should cultivate contentment, seek it out in small moments until they are strung together like pearls and we know that we are living lives of deep contentment.

Thailand Gal said...

What I mean by "guidance"? It can be something as simple as "what do we do in (this circumstance)" to "what is authentic meaning?" Part of accepting that guidance is a willingness to admit that I might not be right about everything, all the time.

The thing is that what I heard, what I was being taught, had to have some intrinsic meaning to me, it had to make sense and it couldn't be someone else trying to manipulate me for their own agenda.

I like the idea that I now have a foundation that is firm, something that has thousands of years of history, the kind of wisdom I wish I'd had access to growing up.

My parents probably thought they were "guiding" me, too.. but it was actually manipulation to make me become the person they wanted me to be for their own purposes. It was selfish and self-interested. It wasn't for my benefit. It was for theirs. The consequence for not being that person, not towing the line, was abandonment.

When I "connected" in Thailand, none of those people had any investment in what I did with the information or guidance. They had no investment in whether I believed them, didn't believe them ~ or even if I thought they were uneducated jackasses. They had no investment in my outcome.

... but they shared with me anyway. They taught me well. One day I might write about that. Some of the conversations I had over there changed my life ~ on the spot.

And that's what set me off on the path I am on now .. the one that finally "fits".

I spent a lot of years trying to figure it out all on my own and it didn't work. While I like my autonomy and respect the autonomy of others, I also like and respect community. There is an appropriate time and place for each.

How we interact with the world, I believe, is largely based on how secure we feel in our community. From that, we develope our autonomy within that context. We have to have roots to sprout wings.

This is probably the difference between internal locus and external locus. Some people are quite good at taking their journey entirely alone. I am not one of them.

Agree with you completely about "happiness". Often, I suspect most people really mean "contentment" but haven't quite defined it yet.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani,

I also felt that my parents' attempts to mold me were about making me worthy of representing them to the world and had little to do with the person I really was, who wasn't good enough.

I agree with you about the need for roots if we are to sprout wings. Well said!

As for guidance, I have sought it and been blessed and honored to receive it from elders of my own choosing. There have been two Native American medicine men in my life who shared their wisdom with me without ever implying that I wasn't worthy of receiving it. Nor did they demand anything in return, although I have tried to pass on the little I know to others.

I think I am a sociable loner. I need connections with others, but I also need more time "alone" with the natural world than most people.

Balance for most people is probably not exactly in the middle of the scale.

Pickled Olives said...

Well said. My heart goes out to you on that Ash Wednesday.

I came from a non-practicing Catholic, Jewish, episcopalian, protestant background. We had all the jewish comfort foods and unspoken rules of conduct with none of the holidays. We had all the 2 major Holidays: Christmas and Easter. One was all about the tree, the other about a new spring hat for mom.

We have family members that cover the ultra-orthodox to the agnostic. It's crazy.

What my family taught that religion could not was "Lovingkindness". Thaks for this post. I enjoyed reading your journey.

Thailand Gal said...

I agree, Balance is never "in the middle" for most of us.

Sociable loner. That's a good one. That is largely how I am here, for now. Many of my relationships here in CA are fairly superficial. Since I've changed so radically, we have little in common.

:)


Peace,

~Chani

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Olives,

What a great comment! I always wanted an Easter bonnet growing up. I probably would have climbed trees in it.

Your family sounds wonderful. All those people from different backgrounds playing nicely together.

Chani,

Changing ourselves always changes our relationships. The ones that are meant for the long run adapt, the rest slip away.

I guess it kind of keeps things fresh.

Thailand Gal said...

You're right, of course. My good friends, closest friends, were happy that I'd found something fulfilling and were just curious to learn more. The others wandered away. That's okay. :)

This has been a very good and interesting topic. I'd be curious to know your take on 'The Secret'. Dialogue is going on my site in the comment section.

Thanks for dialoguing with me here. :)


Peace,

~C

The Law Fairy said...

I love topics like this. My own faith journey, an ongoing one, is probably the one that matters more to me than any other journeys I've taken -- and I'm very passionate about them as well.

It is intriguing to me that even Buddhists struggle with sexism... this, I think, bolsters my belief that religion doesn't cause discrimination, but merely serves as an excuse for it.

I won't pretend to understand arranged marriage... but I suppose I can't really condemn it either. I'm like you, and I absolutely need that "spark" in order for a relationship to work. However, I've learned from unpleasant experience that the "spark" alone doesn't lead to anything good. I know that the choices I've made for myself in mates certainly haven't resulted in anything approaching satisfactory... so I guess I can't really say someone else's method is any worse than mine. Mine certainly doesn't have a great track record to boast of :0)

Then again, I may simply not be the marrying kind.

I think there is a fine line between direction and domination, but I'm fortunate in that my mother is one of those few who walks it. She's always around with an ear to listen and a wise or comforting word -- whichever the situation calls for -- but never a heavy hand. I lucked out BIG TIME in the Mom Department.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani,

I haven't been home much the last few days, but I'll definitely check out your post and weigh in.

Thank you for inviting me. I feel special. :)

Law Fairy,

I didn't intend to be the marrying kind either. My father always said that I would have to marry a man at least 10 years older because no one else could control me.

I could tell that things were going to be messy as soon as I was old enough to cross streets.

You 've mentioned in your blog that your mom is really your best friend, and I was so touched. I would love for my daughters to feel that way about me.

katrice said...

There certainly are enough religions. Excellent post!

So many things about ancient religion are no longer feasible in this day and age. Yet the eternal principles are what we should adhere to: love, kindness, social responsibility, acceptance and freedom.

Arranged marriage? Talk about a crap shoot! You just have to hope you get someone who doesn't repulse you and just might be good to you all the days of your life. No, thanks, I'll take the lottery ticket. Better chances.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Katrice,

I like the eternal principles you mention. That about covers it.

As for arranged marriage, there are so many guys I couldn't even sit at table with, let alone anything else.
I cannot fathom such a life.

CSL said...

I haven't seen much good come of the idea that any one religion is the "right" one. I agree that any religion that teaches compassion is at least on the right track. What makes the most sense to me is to search within yourself for what ideals you want to aim for, and then find a practice (wheher within a faith community or individually) that nurtures your growth toward those ideals. And if lovingkindness isn't included, I think there is way a good deal more soul-searching needed.

I am not Star Jones said...

amen. I feel you on LOVINGKINDNESS.
I want to add another part to it --
forgiveness.
That helps me to get through the nights and days.

One day I do want to know EXACTLY what happened when your mother saw you with that ash on your face.

Liz said...

I just remember the day I asked how it could be that Mary was a virgin if she was also a prostitute...you can tell I did really well in Catholic school, right?

Kate S said...

Hearts, I love, love, love this post. Not only was it beautifully written, but your story could be mine with a few detail changes.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Csl,

We're in agreement about what matters here. I am horrified by religions that teach that they alone are going to Heaven and everyone else will roast in Hell.

So much damage is done in the name of religion. Surely teaching superiority and hate does not honor any god or worshipers.

Star,

Forgiveness doesn't get nearly as much air play as it should, both for others and for ourselves. Probably because it's so very hard to accomplish.

As for my mother, suffice to say that she was not pleased. For someone who did not practice a religion, she seemed to expect that I would somehow intuit or osmose the one I was supposed to belong to w/o instruction. While I supposed that the lack of it equalled freedom.

Big mistake, as it turned out.

Liz,

I read your comment 3 times, and laughed all of them. I can see how that would be confusing... so many Mary's, so little explanation.

My brief sojourn in Catholicism did teach me that questions were not encouraged. And ultimately, that was what dissuaded me from that path.

Kate,

I'd love to hear your story. Please tell it some time, if you feel inclined.

velvet girl said...

This is a great post.

I was raised a Lutheran, but now I'm nothing, having not gotten any satisfying answers to any of my questions from any of the religions. I'm definitely with you that Bhuddism comes closest, but doesn't quite hit the mark totally.

I'm just tired of all the "one true religions". After studying ancient history with my son this year, it just shows that all sorts of old, powerful religions have gone into extinction with no discernable difference made. The world certainly didn't come to an end, nor did vengeful deities smote all mankind as punishment for their non-belief.

It's gotten to the point where I thought that they're all a bunch of fairy tales with threats and incentives just to get people behave civilly to each other (or at least people who hold the the same beliefs... the others can go to hell, apparently).

It really all boils down to love and friendship. Lovingkindness sounds perfect. :)

-velvet

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Velvet,

I also believe that religions have often attempted to scare people into behaving decently toward one another. But sometimes that power is horribly abused in so many ways: Molestation of children, suicide bombings, there is no end to the nasty misuses to which religion has been put.

If we could all treat each other as we would like to be treated, there would be no need for the elaborate trappings of superiority over all who do not share our views.

Threats have always tended to make me stupidly brave to assert my free will. This is not always a good plan in terms of individual survival.

PARLANCHEQ said...

As long as I don't have to get up early on the weekends to attend services at the Church of Lovingkindness, I'm in. :)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Parlancheq,

That's the beauty of it. You just carry it with you, in your heart. You never have to eat church-lady lasagna, and nobody gives a damn what you're wearing.