Thursday, July 14, 2016

I Have a Crucifix

Actually I have two totally non-Jewish religious items hanging on my wall.

The strangest one, in my opinion anyway, is the crucifix.

I struggled with being a (Protestant) Christian since before I got thrown out of Sunday School when I was six and I gave up the struggle altogether when a minister that I was seeing for counseling tried to seduce me when I was sixteen-ish. I just didn't think someone who was “called by G-d to preach” should be doing that sort of thing.

But I was never any kind of a Catholic.

Their churches were always open when I was a teen. (I don't know about now.) And I used to like to go and sit in them. They were dark and quiet and I thought them very beautiful. Especially compared to some of the unadorned storefront churches I was used to. (A storefront was just what it sounds like – a church set up in a strip mall store.) But I knew nothing about what Catholics believed beyond the fact that they were Christians too.

So why do I have a crucifix hanging on my wall?

My Daddy gave it to me.

My Daddy was my stepfather – the only father I ever knew. And one of the nicest men – one of the nicest people - I ever knew. He married my mother when I was around six. He usually worked at least two jobs. When he first married my mother, one of those jobs was cleaning railroad passenger cars. He found the crucifix one night and he gave it to me. He died over 30 years ago now, and I still tear up when I say Kaddish (the memorial prayer for the dead) for him. And part of that is that crucifix he gave me. It wasn't for any special reason or occasion. That is what made it so special to me.

My mother was emotionally cold, and disapproving of me my whole life. The only time I can remember her hugging me was when she had just seen my friend's mother hug her as we were about to get on a plane for England. It felt weird and awkward. As you might be able to guess, there were no spontaneous gifts from my mother – ever.

I suspect Daddy never knew what that gift meant to me. But it was one of the few unadulterated expressions of love from my family that I can point to in, oh, the first 30 years of my life. And the others were all from Daddy as well.

So yeah, it's always been on my wall. It doesn't make me think about G-d, or Jesus, or religion at all. Just that dear, good man who was my Daddy. His memory is a blessing. He taught me most of what I know about love.

And then there is the religious item on my wall that seems less weird to me because at least I really was a part of that religion: a piece of red rope that was used when I was made a Wiccan High Priestess. Let me say immediately that  although (male & female) Wiccans call themselves witches, they are NOT Satanists. They do NOT worship the Christian devil. And all Wiccans are NOT the same. The ones I was a part of believed in G-d (however named) and were serious tree huggers (very concerned about the environment). They were also, as a group, extremely intelligent, studious and on a path that ran parallel to mine, and intersected with mine at many, though not all, points. I can remember how thrilled I was to find out that there were other folks in the Universe who were on a path so similar to mine.

That’s the reason I felt comfortable accepting initiation as a second degree Wiccan High Priestess. But I never took the highest (third degree) because I felt it would have been disrespectful to those who were wholly committed to the Wiccan path - the good folks I think of when I see my red rope. They were an important part of my life for almost twenty years. They opened my eyes, and my mind, to so much. They were my teachers, my friends, my lovers, my family. Seeing that red rope makes me smile thinking of them all. Which is why it too has been on my wall for so long.

I was, I think, I hope, always honest about the fact that I was mostly a fellow traveler with my friends whose path this was. But when I left Denver and moved east I effectively left Wicca. I never seriously looked for another coven to join.

Most of the religions I have studied believe that there is an inner component, and an outer component to their religion, though they may call it different things. During the years when I wasn’t a part of any organized group, I was still very much aware of G-d. I didn’t so much worship as celebrate G-d. G-d was everywhere – in places I visited, places I lived. I still more or less continually, thought about, fiddled with, poked at what I thought of as “my philosophy about life, death, and everything.” Working at my inner component.

And for half a dozen years that was enough. But the outer component is also important and eventually the need for it reasserted itself.

My mother had told me, rather sternly, when I stopped going to church: “When you’re old, you’ll come back to the church.” It turned out, she was right – sort of. I was in my 50s when I began to miss that outer component: ritual and a community to share it with.

And that was the start of me finding my true path – being a Jew.

1 comment:

  1. As I travel through this life, I bask in the blessings that are the people that I get to meet on this trek. Wiccans, Buddhists, etc.,have all had a profound effect on me and my love of Hashem. I see Hashem in their faiths as well as traces of Judaism. I had (I wonder where it is) books on herbs, a Qur'an, bibles, and more. All making me a better person in being able to converse with people outside of my personal world. Thank you Hashem for all the different people in my life, for all the gifts they have given me, and the love and positive energy by which it was given.