Now that we are retired, Joy and I have time to reflect on our beliefs and faith practices. Since we have different spiritual roots, we thought it might be interesting to share our journeys of faith, which are just that – journeys.
Barclay here –
I grew up going to church on Sunday mornings, singing hymns whose lyrics began, What a friend we have in Jesus and Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our lives’ wild restless seas.
As young children, Charlie and I were read bedtime stories, but not about Mickey Mouse or the Berenstein Bears. Rather, our mother read aloud her paraphrased versions of Old Testament stories, written on a yellow legal pad. We heard about David facing Goliath with but a sling and 6 shiny stones, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo being thrown into the fiery furnace, blind Samson regaining his strength and crushing the columns of the Philistine’s temple killing himself and all those around him. Our mother eventually published these legal pad stories in a book called, In the Beginning.
At Christmas time, our mother was counter cultural. She deplored the bearded jolly man (She even wrote an article called, “No Virginia, There is no Santa Claus.”) Her children’s book, The Real Reason for Christmas, reminded Charlie and me that God had gone to extraordinary lengths to stoop down into human existence as a baby in a manger. Christmas was all about Jesus.
So from a young age, I believed. My faith was anchored in the stories of a God of love intervening into human life – forgiving sins, (David, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph were hardly perfect) providing strength in weakness, and showing love, mercy, and justice.
But as the hymn says, life has its “wild restless seas” and my mother’s faith, though an undeniable force, did not override her focus on outward appearances and her quick tongue. And as I broke away from my mother in my teens and 20s, I also broke away from my faith. Rather than reading the Bible, I read nice devotionals that did not challenge or inspire. I adopted a lukewarm faith, that allowed me to look inward and not outward.
But then came parenthood. And the realization that I needed God. Desperately. The God of David, Shadrach, Mechak, and Abednigo. The God who sent his son, Jesus, a fulfillment of prophesy, to die for me so that each day of imperfect parenting could be a “do-over” – grace filled and led by one more powerful than I. As David says, My sin was ever before me. And I could no longer do this life on my own power. That much I knew!
What do I believe today?
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
1 John 4:9-10.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
And when my seas become restless with waves of anxiety, fear, or grief, I believe that I have a friend in Jesus who calls me o’er the tumult.
I grew up the daughter of a mother who downplayed her Judaism and a father who came from an Orthodox family of 5 children, with a mother and father speaking Yiddish in their home. My mother, Muriel, was very Reformed, as was her brother, Morton. Uncle Morty, I was told recently almost missed his Bar-Mitzvah because he was playing stick ball! (millennials can look that up if you are reading our blog!) My father was a first generation American and my mother a 3rd generation American.
I was raised Reform and attended Sunday School for seven long years, attempting to learn Hebrew for most of those years, but definitely knowing my holidays. I was confirmed at 13, not Bat-Mitzvahed (they really didn’t do that in those days for girls) I was very proud to be asked to go up to the bimah ( a raised platform in a synagogue with a reading desk from which to read the Torah, Haftarah) My parents had been married at this Upper West Side synagogue and my grandparents had attended services there as well, so it was considered an honor to be asked. I recited a special poem, which I had memorized. I was proud to be turning 13 as a young Jewish woman.
Fast forward and who do I end up falling in love with? A De Santo, not a Goldstein or a Goldfarb, but an Italian, blue eyed blonde who was raised Catholic! You fall in love with a person, not the person’s religion, so I married out of my faith. My parents took it well, although my father certainly would have preferred me to marry a Jewish boy, preferably a doctor or a lawyer, of which my De Santo was neither. Handsome, promising, and very smart, I hadn’t thought about anything else at 23 years of age.
When we had children, we decided you couldn’t leave it up to them to decide (many people of my generation who married inter-faith thought they could). At the time. I was a High Holy Days worshipper, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I said my prayers every night, (the same ones my mother taught me when I was little- “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take) David attended church every Sunday so I balanced the decision in my head and went with bringing up the children Catholic. We celebrated all the Jewish holidays, but did have a Christmas tree and attended mass on Christmas and Easter. I wanted to expose the children to both religions and have always felt as long as you believe in some higher being and can pray when you need to (or want to), that’s all that counts.
Today, one grown daughter is more aligned with Judaism, at least culturally, and the other considers herself a Catholic.
For me, I would describe myself as a Jewish girl from the Upper West side and proud of it! I light Yarzheit candles, just as my mother did and her mother before her. I worship on the High Holy days, I fast on Yom Kippur, I observe Passover by abstaining from all leavened foods during the holiday, and I pray every night. My religion is important to me. I feel a swell of emotion when I sit in a synagogue and hear the cantor chant. It is a religion of tradition, beauty, ancient customs and belief in one G-D who is omnipresent and omnipotent.
I will pass down a very special white bible “The Holy Scriptures” given to me the day I was confirmed in 1968, one year after the Six-Day War, also known as the Arab- Israeli War. I hope my daughters will carry it on their wedding day and will feel the depth of emotion that I do when I see it and hold it.
Barclay and I share a deep commitment to our religions. Though they are different, we both believe strongly and know that we are always in G-d’s hands.
It gives us both comfort to know that.
Thank you all for reading our musings, writings, perspectives, and very personal stories.
As always, enjoy the ride.
xox Barclay and Joy