Prayers to my Dead Grandmother

Religion is the hardest thing for me to blog about. I can write about sex no problem. I revel in the cathartic aspect of admitting all manner of embarrassing mom foibles. And yet when it comes to religion, I feel out on a limb. It’s still something that’s unsettled in my life and I have the unusual (for me) desire to please everyone. I want my atheist friends to think I’m smart like them. I want my Jewish friends to bat Yiddish colloquialisms around with me. I want my Christian friends to know I’m down with Jesus. I could go on…

I grew up in a world in which religion was a simple thing. My family and everyone around us was steeped in the Jewish ethnicity- its foods and prayers and customs and expressions. Neither of my parents lived more than twenty minutes from where they grew up. Holidays were crowded with family and the house always smelled delicious.

And then I moved three thousand miles away and married a Christian guy. And even before that, I was a religious seeker, struggling to find a spiritual community that made sense to me. I’ve felt close a few times- a Zen dojo in New York, a hippie temple in San Francisco, a Pentecostal church in East L.A… but in the end something always stuck in my craw and I eventually drifted away.

This comes up for me now because I just sailed through the High Holidays yet again without formally acknowledging them in any way. I did have a quiet personal moment, but I didn’t share in any kind of community.

I think my craving for some structured spirituality would just stay an intermittent yearning in my life if it weren’t for the fact that Judaism was so important to me as a child. I wonder if I’m slighting my own kid by not giving him a religious community. I don’t have a good answer, but I’m conscious of the question and I’m open to a solution that makes sense for our family. T’s new school has an Episcopal affiliation and he’s been really enjoying chapel, so that’s going to have to be enough for now.

When I think of being in an interfaith marriage, I remember the time Scott and I visited our friend Yoshi in Kyoto (that’s the three of us pictured above). I was having trouble telling the Buddhist temples from the Shinto shrines. Yoshi told me that there was no reason to draw hard and fast lines between Buddhism and Shintoism, because most Japanese people practice some mix of the two, with a dose of ancestor worship mixed in.

I told him that it seems like cheating. Like you should have to choose. It’s like calling yourself Jewish and praying to Jesus when you feel like it. And then praying to your dead grandmother when you feel like it. You can’t cover all your bases. Those just aren’t the rules.

He just looked at me, confused, and asked, “You don’t pray to your dead grandmother when you feel like it?”

Yes. I actually do. All the time. Lord knows she was opinionated enough in her lifetime, maybe one day she’ll weigh in with a clear answer. Until then, I guess I’m going with the Japanese model.