My faith journey
Both of my parents were Jewish and I was their only child. Every Sunday dad would drive me to Temple for Sunday school where l learned stories from the Old Testament, Hebrew and the prayers. I was an obedient child did as I was told by teachers and the rabbi. I was told repeatedly that we are the Chosen People, chosen of God, but I saw no evidence of it in my daily life or anyone else’s.
For a summer camp when I was eight years old, my parents selected a camp that assigned each camper their own horse. I loved riding so it sounded really good to me. The camp was for one month. I wasn’t there a week before I was told I was not to attend church with all the other campers. Instead I was made to sit in the cafeteria while every other camper attended worship service.
Apparently the camp administrators had found out I was Jewish.
All the campers were then told not to talk to me, sit beside me or do anything with me. I wrote my parents telling them what was going on at camp and that they needed to come pick me up.
Not one of my daily letters ever reached my parents even though the envelopes had the necessary postage. I had never seen Christians be so mean and I hope never to see it again.
I had been taught about the Holocaust, but until that summer, I did not realize that hatred toward Jews was still very much alive.
In Sunday school, I asked a rabbi, “Why do Christians hate us? And the rabbi told me it is because we reject Jesus as the Messiah. It seemed like a plausible explanation, to me. There were no Muslims in St. Louis where I grew up or in Dallas that I knew of. When I asked about Muslim hatred of the Jews, I was told it was because we took their land from them in Israel.
My parents attended worship services only during the High Holy Days. It was expected that I would go with them at that time, and confirmation in the Temple was also expected of me by my parents. In our confirmation year at Sunday school, students are provided with opportunities to ask the rabbi questions. So, I did. I asked, “Since we have been taught that God is omnipotent and we are His favorites, why did He allow the holocaust?” His answer was, “The ways of God are not for us to understand.” I found that response deeply unsatisfying. I equated his answer with our not having the right to question God. Both my mom and dad had lost relatives in the Holocaust and I believed it disrespectful to their memory if I didn’t observe the Jewish traditions. So I stopped asking questions.
The man who I married was Jewish and we exchanged our wedding vows at the Temple where he and I had been confirmed in our teens, but my husband and I did not attend High Holy Days most years or Friday night Sabbath worship services. Neither of us felt comfort or joy as Jews, but neither of us were willing to confront our parents about it. In my parent’s home and his, Christmas dinner with our family was the big yearly celebration. We did not have Passover celebrations. That probably should have been my first hint that Judaism wasn’t working for me.
When someone would ask me about my religion I would say, “I’m nothing.” In my twenties, I adopted Ayn Rand’s philosophy as my own replacement for religious belief. Reading Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, I thought her beliefs might be my guide in this world, but they didn’t provide any comfort.
Next, I studied Zen Buddhism. I meditated every day and joined a yoga class led by a yogi from India. He exuded inner peace (and had a great body). This guy told me to eat only organic rice if I wanted to be enlightened. But the more I studied Buddhism, the more moral obstacles I had. The caste system was probably my biggest issue. If you had the misfortune to be born an Untouchable, the lowest caste, you were going to find life really tough. The Brahmin were at the top of the ‘food chain’. That religion did not translate well into my Western consciousness.
But I did not stop investigating other Eastern religions. In my thirties, I studied Confucius briefly. They believe in civility and kindness toward others, but divinity is not what they are all about. Taoism had no appeal because this religion believes mortals can become gods and live forever if they are willing to adopt certain practices and rituals. Shintoism requires followers to worship the Japanese emperor as God, and that was a disconnect for me.
In my forties, I ignored my spiritual problems altogether and focused only on my career and my family. In my fifties, my mother died and we had a secular service for my dad and me. In my early sixties, I probably had a nervous breakdown; suicide became a daily ideation. I spent hours most days figuring out the best method. Seeing a psychologist, recommended by my only Jewish friend, probably saved my life.
After two years of seeing him three-times-every week, he tentatively suggested that I was a very unhappy Jew and that I should “shop around” for another religion that was more nourishing for me. So every week, I had an assignment of attending a different worship service each week.
I tried Christian Science (these are the people who primarily believe in faith healing); Presbyterian (too dour for me); Methodist (which did not seem to have a solid core) and Catholic. I knew I could not be a Catholic because of the way that church treated women. I never gave Mormonism a chance because of the way that church also viewed women. Every week I reported the findings to my therapist. He asked me if I had tried the Episcopal Church and suggested his Episcopal church in Highland Park.
I made an appointment with the Rector, read the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and found nothing objectionable at all. In their worship service they incorporated readings from the Old Testament and New Testament. Their approach to worship was inclusive and appealing. The Rector was a graduate of Harvard and in his sermons he never talked down to the congregation. Another plus! He asked me if I believed in Christ, and I said I did. He baptized me by sprinkling water on my head and giving me a candle with the instruction to be “the light of Christ in the world.” That was it. With that ceremony I became Christian. Every Sunday I drove to a worship service in Dallas. I gave them a big check every year. My father didn’t mind my becoming Christian and neither did my husband, who I found out had been baptized as a child.
But when my father was dying, I met a woman neighbor of his who gave my father great comfort. She told him that she knew he would go to heaven. She was sure. This same woman said she knew because she knew Christ and there was no doubt of that in her, at all. She knew Christ as a living God and her resolute faith and conviction was what I wanted. It was this woman who changed my life. Through her, I came to know Christ, not as some historical figure, but as a personal Savior who lives my life with me. She showed my father and me the love of Christ. Through her, I came to understand union in Christ and can say now without any hesitation that Christ is my life and that I know His love first hand.
No longer a Seeker. I am Home.