My Journey: Hashem, Buddha, Allah, Darwin
Unpious Forum commenter ThisPieceisMine asks about the religious paths and proclivities of us unpious, so I thought I’d share a little bit about mine – and I’d love to hear about yours.
When I left the Charedi community as a teenager, I still considered myself deeply spiritual and I believed in (and, somewhat masochistically given my circumstances, loved) God.
And so I began my religious journey, guided by spirit and heart as much as head.
I was in Israel then, and I was attracted to the “mizrachim”, the devoutly religious dati, whose spiritual devotion did not interfere with a sense of obligation to the world, a respect for education, and a penchant for flowing gypsy skirts and scarves. They (a dati boy with spectacular blue eyes who I was convinced was the love of my life, and a very kind and patient dati Rabbi) were my “gateway” drug – presenting me with an option that was palatable to my aidel naïveté, while beginning to address some of my frustrations and questions.
But I never really built a community in that world, I was too young and unequipped to know how, and my life circumstances deteriorated to a point where survival became more important than any other struggle. I found myself back in New York, sobbing into my siddur, dressed in long skirts and modest blouses that disguised my hungers and angers, living in a tiny apartment on the edge of Boro Park, on the outskirts of the frum community, ostracized by my family, alone.
But I was still searching for answers.
I tried (briefly) to force Rastafarianism into a solution(the circumstances surrounding that are an entirely different story), but found the philosophy shallow and the practice generally self-serving.
A few years later, having drifted further from Judaism, I sought out a Zen Buddhist temple, and then a Zen Buddhist teacher. I found that practices and philosophies incredibly powerful and incredibly wise. I learned basic tools for living life that, while simple, transformed me deeply: Focus entirely on one thing at a time. Travel the middle road. Act with your wisdom and heart in concert. Find stillness and follow your breath to reconnect. Although I eventually drifted from that world, I still treasure, and try to practice, what I learned there.
A Rosicrucian friend of mine brought me to a Sufi service, a few years after that, and there, I fell totally in love. It was a very liberal mosque, situated in lower Manhattan, lead by a Sheika –an American woman, who spoke softly, but powerfully, about beauty and love.
We sat in circles on the ground, arms around each other, and chanted in waves of sound that seemed to pull our souls flowing across our arms, so we became one giant, circular river of spirit. We danced together, late at night, turning and singing and moaning in estatic joy. We read poetry and shared dreams and kneeled to Mecca. I will admit that I didn’t probe too deeply into the intellectual riggings of the practice, but the pure joy and the positivity of the teachings, the stress on god’s love, on our love, and the other-worldly physical sensations of the services were enough for me, at least for a while. I converted, gained a new, Arabic, name, and became a “dervish”, learning the sacred whirling dance from a Turkish immigrant who gave me a stone to place between my toes as I tried to throw myself off the ground, into the swirling rhythm of Allah.
I should clarify, that my leaving Sufism a few months later, as I had left other practices I explored, didn’t mean I was picking up each tradition, playing with it, and then discarding it. Rather, I was picking up each tradition, trying on its clothing, its garb, then removing most of it, but keeping an item or two that spoke to me, that became part of me, as I continued on my search.
By then, I had seen enough of life, seen the insides and underbellies of enough religions, that my spiritual fervor had faded. I began to learn more about science and evolution, and as I did, my mind was blown in a way that no religion could match. I found clear, copious proof for what I already knew – there was no god. Instead, there was a glorious unknown, a universe of mysteries that science could give us small glimpses of. The awe I felt (and feel) for the beauty of the natural world – it was deeper than the very powerful awe I used to feel for god. The truth and grace in science answered my intellectual questions with complete, brilliant truths and engaged my heart with delight and wonder. Go check out this video for more on the latter.
Still, my search is not entirely over. As I get older, and my anger towards the religious community abates (just a small amount), I’ve gained the clarity to realize that what I call “Judaism” is actually a perversion appropriated by a male hierarchy over the past few hundred years. Who says these men have a right to define god? To edit our history? To make up our traditions? Even though I don’t believe in god, don’t I have a right to enjoy the parts of my cultural history that add meaning to my life?
And so, my newest experiment – Renewal Judaism. We belong to Romemu, a Renewal shurch (shule in a church). We got every Friday night to services. Although I disagree with some of the movement’s ideas, I cherish the enjoyment of pieces of my youth, reset in a context I can stomach. I can savor a small piece of Judaism without feeling like I’m being intellectually dishonest. From the pulpit, the Rabbi embraces those who don’t believe in god. Prayers are sung in familiar Carlbach tunes, but adjusted so Miriam is given her due as much as Moshe, and so other nations share in the blessings we ask for the Jews. And “Shalom” is sung, “Shalom, Salaam, Om Shanti”.
There is a lot more detail and nuance to this journey (obviously), enough to fill a book. But this is the quick review. What’s your story? Focusing on your personal, intellectual + emotional view instead of the philosophical arguments, where do you actually stand now and how did you get here?Printable Version