April 6, 2008 — Last night, the muse came back to whisper in my ear. He was trying to corner me in conversation, nicely, I must admit, in a conversation about belief and faith and God and observing Jewish ritual.
And then today, he sent me a letter with a line that keeps ricocheting in my head, question marks and asterisks a frame around it. Here’s the line: “May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith…”
And so I said to the muse, “That line really speaks to me, except I don’t know what it’s saying. You keep mentioning faith and I don’t know how I feel about faith or what I am faithful about.”
The muse replied in his night-soft voice, “If you don’t have faith, I can’t imagine why you would keep kosher or Shabbat or anything else for that matter.”
It’s a good question, I know it is. And I do not have an answer.
Today I walked in my brown and blue rain boots around the muddy backyard as my children scurried up and down the slide and the sun dried the faded grass. The children climbed the fence to play with the neighbor kids. The sky was clear blue with streaks of cloud, and we all felt confident that spring has finally stretched its fingers.
When I asked the muse to define faith for me, he backed away. “Don’t look to me for the definition,” he said.
And so I opened the dictionary and this is what I found:
unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence
unquestioning belief in God, religious tenets, etc.
a religion or a system of religious beliefs
complete trust, confidence, or reliance
allegiance to some person or thing; loyalty
Well geez, that covers just about everything and nothing, doesn’t it? So I guess that means I’m a faithful person in some ways and have no faith in others.
I’ve knelt on church pews and watched my uncle say his seven Japanese words before the altar of Buddha. I’ve davened, responded to white-robed rabbis, and hidden in the temple bathroom, bored to tears by the drone of services. Through all my questioning and exploration, all my open-minded dabbling in other worlds and brief glimpses through the eyes of the devout, even during an intense Shabbat dinner in the Old City of Jerusalem, among young ba’alei teshuvah who wanted to turn their backs on the worlds that made them, through all that, I’ve hit on just a few absolutes.
I cannot practice a religion other than Judaism. It just flows through my veins, part of my blood, connecting me to my ancestors. I like the way my rituals mark the changing of the seasons and the cycles of life. I like the foods of my memories.
But I also know that I cannot shut out the rest of the world. Call me a hippy-tree-hugger, call me a crunchy-earth-mother, I won’t be offended. It’s what makes me see God in the sunrise, in a yoga pose, in my son opening the door of the bakery for an elderly woman so she won’t have to do it herself. I find God and creation and richness and belief and, yes, faith in the blueberry orchards as my children eat the little berries off the branches and as they run up and down the rows of bushes that are taller than them.
So I have faith. I’m just not prepared to sign on the dotted line to wear a uniform or follow someone else’s set of rules. Maybe the confidence, allegiance, and trust I have so unwaveringly inside my skin is in myself. If that makes me a heretic, I suppose I could live with that.