We can attempt to teach the things that one might imagine the earth would teach us: silence, humility, holiness, connectedness, courtesy, beauty, celebration, giving, restoration, obligation and wildness.
David Orr from "Earth in Mind"

Mar 25, 2007

Thoughts on Religion 1

Yesterday at temple the discussion topic (during our service we always have a discussion) was rituals and their purpose. The focus was on religion but not completely. The conversation got me thinking about what it means to be religious and what religion means to my life and to my families. In other words do I consider myself religious. To begin with it is hard for me to quantify what being religious actually means.

If it means observing the rituals of Judaism I got to temple once or twice a month and recognize the holidays. I don't think that makes me religious. Sure it is more than most Jews in the United States do but I do not follow many of the daily or weekly rituals.

If being religious means understanding your faith I know I am not religious. But then I am late in coming to my Judaism. I continually find myself not knowing basic facts about our story. The last time I read the Torah/bible was in ninth grade when we did bible as literature, that was almost twenty years ago so my memory is vague. As for the weekly sections of the Torah, listening to a paragraph every two weeks of a story that is read daily leads to a lot of holes in it.

But if being religious means searching for a connection with some sort of higher power, be it a anthropomorphic God or a less tangible one, I guess I am religious.

As a child I was taught to look at religion as a cultural construct created by the people to give them a connection beyond that of their government (primarily feudal). My parents saw religion, and Judaism specifically, as a way to connect ourselves to our past. But they did not go beyond that. To them the Orthodox families on the corner we archaic and controlling, people to be looked at with distrust, rather than people whose lives were closer to the spiritual side of religion. I still get quite when I see orthodox families around, they make me feel as though I am being a bad Jew, it is a remnant of my childhood, I am sure they could explain somethings to me that I never understood.

Now, while I can not claim any real understanding of my religion, I understand the need to be closer to the spirit, the 'god'. I am sure if I had been forced to attend temple every week as an obligation, as some families I knew growing up were, I would not be this accepting to looking for a connection with god. I might be better at the ritual elements of being a Jew but they might be hollow. I look at my husband and see someone who was brought up in the Lutheran church, he was even confirmed but it was all motions he was going through as a family obligation not a personal religious one (surprisingly he enjoys joining me at temple and says he likes the Reform Judaism ideas).

As many young people I searched out a connection with a spiritual center. I had gone to a Quaker school for many years and the silent meeting gave me "something" but it was an internal center. Even since graduating I have been to Quaker Meeting at various points to re-find this center. While this center is fulfilling it is not spiritual connection. So after high school I looked in the regular channels of the East and the natural world. But I always walked away unconvinced that I could really believe in the religious aspects. None of it fit.

After we had been married for a few years and there was talk of children I began to think more about religion. I knew that our child had to be brought up Jewish, because if they were not then by default they would be Christan, it's just what our country is like. I actually had a nightmare that my one of my sister-in-laws tried to surreptitiously baptise our child. I started looking at Jewish websites, the same way people look at pornography, I hid it from Kevin. I felt that I needed to have a stronger footing in Judaism before I announced to anyone that we would be a Jewish family.

A funny thing happened during my covert investigation into Jewishness, I got it. I mean it made sense on a level that had nothing to do with logic, it just fit. maybe it is hereditary or genetic but the ideas I was reading about made sense to me. It was like being told something that I had once known and forgotten. What I like best was that 'they' did not seem to expect me to change who I was as a person. In fact what I read more sounded like an extension of who I already was.

The next step was to find a Temple, or at least a Rabbi to talk to. Growing up rabbis we dour old me in dark suits who presided over funeral and high holidays. These men (and they were all men) were unapproachable serious people, they were no different than bankers to me. Then I happened upon Temple Micah, the Rabbi is young and engaging. Willing to talk outside of the service about anything. I came to try it on and pretty quickly knew it fit.

In all my searching for a spiritual connection I found one that fits with my philosophical beliefs (see the quote at the top of the blog) as well as my need for community. Of course I still don't really understand a lot about Judaism but I am learning. Some days it feels as if parts of it are genetic, it all just comes together.

Having a child brings in another facet to my religious belief and practice. While I want Alder to have the experience of being part of Judaism I do not want to force it on him. I want him to see that it is part of my life because it enriches it not because it is a social responsibility. Rarely do I want to force him to be involve in something that does not ring true to him so I have to make it part of our lives in a way that it integral to everything else not opposed to it. Ah more questions for me to answer as I unwind this mystery that is religion.

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