A Search For Meaning

During my childhood years, my Roman Catholic mother would insist that everyone, including my Protestant, divorced-and-remarried father, dress appropriately for Mass. To me, “appropriately” meant something other than blue jeans and bare feet. She insisted that I at least wear a skirt. I knew the promise of a treat afterward was a bribe, but I did not mind. I almost always had a paperback book with me anyway. We usually went to hear Mass on Saturday night, at Saint John’s Church, more than forty-five minutes away. Several people I knew from school were usually there. Talking was forbidden until the service was over and the congregation had filed down the stairs to the cement-floored hall in the basement. There, we kids would drink punch and eat cookies while the adults discussed whatever it was boring adults talked about.

We always said grace before a meal; even the punch and cookies counted.

Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts, which we are about to receive from your bounty.
Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

I was a bit rebellious at times, especially where religion was concerned. I did not like the idea that I should not talk to G*d myself; that I had to have a priest, a middleman do it for me. While many of the stories were entertaining, the whole resurrection thing did not make sense. The more questions I asked, the more I got into trouble. I learned to keep my doubts to myself.

Belief in truth begins with doubting all that has hitherto been believed to be true.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

To please my mother, I went through all the ceremonies, sacraments, and rites of passage that a young, baptised, Catholic girl would do: First Communion, First Confession, and Confirmation. My Confirmation ceremony was the last time I attended that church regularly. I remember asking my mother if she was happy. She had tears in her eyes; she was so proud. In my white dress and white strappy sandles that were just a little too tight, I asked her if this really made me an adult. When she agreed, I said, “That means I can choose to not ever come back, if I want to. Right?”

I went outside and waited by the family station wagon until she was ready to leave.

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
~ Dr. Seuss

I spent the next ten years searching for spirituality, trying on religions like clothing, checking for a good fit. Were the sleeves of ritual too restrictive? Did the foundation feel solid? Each ceremony I attended, every learned person I met with, they all encouraged me not to question. I should accept on faith that G*d was out there, watching over me, judging and grading me. This did not compute in my analytical brain.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
~ Albert Einstein

Eventually, I had the great fortune to meet a Rabbi, who asked me to call him Billy. In his congregation, questioning was encouraged. I attended services nearly every Friday night. Billy would tell stories to illustrate that particular evening’s message, but there was no fire-and-brimstone. I learned through conversations with him, and with others, that the point is not to worry about the afterlife, but to focus on this life. When I questioned my existence, the answer was simple: Tikkun Olam. I was here to make the world a better place. When the congregation met after services, it wasn’t for milk and cookies. We shared a meal together, and it was as though we were all family.

Barukh atah Adonai Elohaynu melekh ha-olam
ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
(Amen)

I converted to Reform Judaism and married my husband under the chuppa that we put together ourselves. That was many years ago. I have moved several times, and while I am not affiliated with any synagogue now, I am Jewish. I pray each year to be inscribed into the Book of Life. I occasionally whisper ha-mozti, the blessing over bread. I light my menorah. I remember when the rabbi came to Purim dressed as Garth, and I smile.

Though I am still searching, still questioning, I know that I am in the right place for now.

When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength.
Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.
~ Tecumseh
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