"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fall Photos (Book Review and Old World Roots)

Just going through my recent photos, I noticed these beautiful autumn images. It's now December, and the gorgeous autumn leaves have long ago turned into compost, but I wanted to share these pictures nonetheless.

This hasn't been a particularly beautiful Fall. Even when it is a particularly beautiful Fall here, it isn't, compared to Fall in some other parts of the world, like Vermont. We in the Pacific Northwest are accustomed to our soggy, brown, moldy Autumns. If we are lucky, and paying attention, we might see one beautiful weekend. Here is our beautiful weekend 2011.

These photos are already some five weeks in the past. Today was the first sunny day in weeks, and I let the goats out to graze. One sunny day does not make up for weeks of rain; I stepped in the ankle deep mud, freezing and clammy. I have simply had to resign myself to the fact that the reality of life, currently, is cold mud, even when the sky is clear blue and the mercury unseasonably tops forty-five degree.

Today, the first sunny day this Fall warm enough to entice me outside to allow my animals to graze, was really lovely. I brought a book: Miriam's Kitchen, a book about a woman rediscovering her Jewish roots, and read it while I relaxed in a canvass chair with an oak-stick resting gently against my knee. The author tells the story of growing up the child of holocaust survivors, and marrying the son of holocaust survivors. All four of her children's grandparents are immigrants, refugees, and formerly orthodox Jews. One side of the family assimilates, and the other doesn't. The author grows up in a "culturally Jewish" family, a family which observes Hanukkah and Passover but doesn't keep kosher. She marries into a traditional family which does keep kosher and which is observant in ways her family was not. The book is the story of her slowly reconciling the two sides, mostly via the kitchen. I highly recommend it for anyone who is attempting to create or maintain a spiritual tradition for their children.

I am fairly certain I will never decide to do the hard work of rediscovering my own Jewish roots. My mother's family were Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated at the beginning of the twentieth century and who lost their traditions over a couple of generations of living in America. My family has ignored their roots to such a degree that much of my own generation doesn't even realize they have Jewish roots to rediscover. All I have left is a better-than-average Yiddish vocabulary and a wry sense of humor.

My sister has chosen to resurrect (ha!) the family's heritage to the extent with which she feels comfortable. I wouldn't presume to speak for her, but I believe that she has found a rich spiritual vein to mine, one that lives and speaks to her. She has chosen the rituals that she practices because they have something to say to her, something she believes valuable to pass on to her children. I have chosen other rituals from other traditions that I believe pass on similar lessons.

Few Americans of my generation were raised in a faith tradition. There are good things and bad things about that fact, and I'm not going to debate them. Personally, I am happy to have the freedom to develop, organically, my own faith. However, I recognize that that freedom comes at a cost, a cost that I can never even fully understand. Most of us, those of us who have no ingrained faith but who nonetheless long to instill a living spirituality in our children, must search our family backgrounds for traces of a tradition hardy enough to resurrect. Or, if our background yields none, then we must search the general landscape, a landscape which is becoming more and more sterile over the years.

I found Zion Lutheran, a small country church with a century long heritage of ministering to local farming families. The congregation is tiny, and elderly, but the tradition is unbroken. In the pews each sunday sit couples who were married in the same nave a half century ago, and every year there are a few funerals for members who were baptized there a hundred years before. Zion offers a beautiful, traditional liturgical service and close observance of a sacred calendar. I joined in order to worship with my neighbors, but I have also found great joy in seeing my children baptized there. On any given sunday there are few children in attendance, and the baptism of young members is a special occasion. I find a surprising amount of happiness in braiding my family into this small local faith tradition.

This is blasphemy in nearly all traditions, I suppose, but the truth is, I really don't care what particulars a faith teaches. I don't care if my congregation worships Jesus or Allah or
Buddha or freakin' Zoroaster. Every faith I've ever studied espouses more or less the same universal values: kindness, love, reciprocity, forgiveness, and honesty. That is what I want for my chikldren: that they be kind, honest, and loving. It so happens that I believe those values are best transmitted through an intact faith system. Or an intact mythology, if you prefer.

I also believe in the value of prayer. I don't think it matters much who one prays to: I have a household altar and many different deities have made an appearance on it. I don't think God cares about names. I think the impulse toward the sacred is universal, and universally valid. Certain images have resonance for me, and I assume different images have resonance for others. That should threaten me? Why?

Here's my prayer for the day: God reaches out towards all people at all times. May all of us recognize the divine when it stretches into our hearts and lives. May all of us honor it. May all of us feel the blessing and the beauty when we reach back out towards God, however God appears to us.


Laura said...

Amen. I was raised Methodist, separated from the church when I was 18, and never really went back. I have my own "organically grown" faith, basically that *everything* has value, and celebrate the cycle of seasons and life itself.

I find myself looking for a community now, however, and really don't know where to start. It's a hard thing to spend enough time to get to know a group, to see if they'll fit or not, and if not, to leave it behind. My dad has found the Unitarian Universalist community to fill that for him - I might check to see if one exists in my area. I know their belief system is compatible with mine, but it's hard to join something new!

I applaud your efforts to instill age-old values in your children - too many parents don't anymore. At least your kids will be honorable members of society!!

Melinda C. said...

Beautiful, Aimee! Community and connection, caring for others, caring for my family and self. That's the main focus of my faith, I guess. I can't pinpoint exactly what faith is for me, but I think I like it like that. It's always growing, taking the shape that it should be for me.
And Guyan, my ten-year-old? He believes in mythology. It works for him; he's always been a team player, after all.

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