One of my go-to writing haunts on the web is the Interfaith Family Network, where I blog semi-regularly about interfaith (Jewish-Christian) marriage and parenting. I’ve found the space a non-threatening way to do what doesn’t come naturally to me: share my evolving thinking about a topic while my thoughts on it are in-process. Because the organization/website/blog supports the maintenance of Jewish identity in interfaith relationships, though, the other half our interfaith family life (the, ahem, Christian/post-Christian/cultural Christian) gets mentioned less.
Plus, it’s awkward to talk about religion, or at least it’s awkward to talk about my own religious life. Holidays, funny things toddlers say at services, my continued sense of learning from and about the Jewish tradition after 15-odd years of being in an interfaith relationship: all of these topics are easy compared to writing, publically, about where my own religious perspectives fit in the mix.
I’ve mentioned on that blog, and perhaps here, that I’ve (mostly, well, usually I phrase it more strongly than that, but there’s some internal hemming and hawing) identified as a Unitarian Universalist for a great many years now, somewhere close to 15 or 16 years. That seems like a lot. And yet, every few years, and sometimes more often, this little voice inside me pipes up: aren’t you still an Episcopalian?
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to an Episcopal church in the last fifteen-odd years. My grandparents’ wedding anniversary celebration. My dad’s wedding. Visiting my dad on another occasion or two. My grandmother’s funeral. Usually I just felt uncomfortable about leaving, that kind of discomfort where, if you’re far more honest with yourself than you can actually be, you kind of want to be welcomed back, but aren’t sure, and no one’s coming out and making the matter clear or easy to understand).
And there was that time, now about 9 years ago, when I was thinking about converting to Judaism (which I’ve just written about for the Interfaith Family blog), wandered into an Episcopal church, and got freaked out and sad and felt more things than I could really process. When I told myself, being all fundamentalist and proper, I shouldn’t be taking communion because I wasn’t sure I could say the Nicene Creed and mean it.
And how I didn’t know how to face a communion hymn that, despite its beautiful tune, said something about “only through the blood of the Lord.” On the face of it, as my mind would have it, this wasn’t a theology I thought I could support. It was a theology I thought I’d given up years ago in college, when an atheist (now-ex) boyfriend convinced me that I didn’t believe literally and therefore, wasn’t really a Christian, a believer. He laughed when he learned I couldn’t spell “Episcopalian” (“you can’t even spell your own tradition!”) and taught me how to spell the name of the denomination in which I’d been raised by saying “I Ain’t an Episcopalian,” emphasis on the IAN. Yes, there are more memories there.
There I was, nine years after the ex-boyfriend and nine years before this year, considering Judaism, reading prayer books, longing for God, trying to figure out if I actually believed in a divinity, not to mention if this was Trinity, or a unity, or a god within that’s a god above and beyond that which our minds and souls can comprehend.
I gave up, ran away, freaked out. I (as usual) thought too much, worried too much. I trusted less and felt less. As I recounted for Interfaith Family, I knew that I didn’t “feel Jewish,” even though the beautiful melodies of the Friday night prayers stay with me and linger in my mind long after the Shabbat candles have died down.
I wasn’t sure what I felt, and I was scared to feel anything different, challenging, awkward, that might get me rejected, scorned, or laughed at. So I retreated back to Unitarian Universalism. Joined a committee at the church, spoke form the pulpit a few times. Took a part-time job managing a well-known historical resource for the denomination.
But I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something was missing, that holding the sermon as the centerpiece of the worship service, and the gathered community of fellow seekers as the sacred reason for coming together, simply wasn’t going far enough. I missed, in a word, regular reminders of mystery, symbolism, the bold assertion that there are things we humans cannot know or comprehend but can only glimpse, things that go beyond even the confidence of our well-developed minds.
I managed to stuff those nagging questions down for years. I tried, two years ago when I started this blog, to let those questions out, but must not have been ready. The questions, the longings, came back, as they often do, during the season of Advent.
And now I’ve been going to Episcopal services since New Year’s, trying to figure out what this might mean for our interfaith family, for the religious liberal I remain, and the threads that tie it all together. I’ve been writing about deep feelings since I was far too young, but still just old enough, to give them words. There are more words to write, but all of this is another story for another day: one I expect I’ll be returning to here as the reflective season of Lent begins.