Jul 1, 2010

Once Upon a Time, I Was Agnostic.

Let's get personal. I don't know that I've blogged about this specifically before, but I figure now's a good of time as any. I was inspired to write it after all the hullabaloo re: an earlier post on a certain rabbi who shall remain nameless.

When I was a kid, I didn't go to church. My parents weren't big believers (so far as I could tell), and we were raised on the Golden Rule (do unto others, etc.) and I got a small Precious Moments bible at one of my early birthdays. The only church I ever went to was with friends. This time of year, I'd be gearing up for Vacation Bible School, full of home-made ice cream and bible tales that I never retained. These characters, these Marks and Pauls and Johns and the Jesus guy ... well, I didn't believe.

I was a child, and I didn't believe. Jesus, to me, was a mythical creature, a fake person, a non-existent fabrication. A man to color in a coloring book. Religion didn't exist for me beyond something to do during the summer, and I never spoke to G-d, I spoke to my dead grandparents who I had never met and the stars in the sky (Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight ...). And then?

When I was about 10 years old, I experienced an incredibly scary crisis of reality: I realized that we die. I realized that at some point, life stops, and what comes after it I didn’t know. For two weeks I was awake every night in my day bed, the light of the moon peeking in my curtains, and I cried. I felt silly in the morning, and I never did tell my parents about it. I didn’t ask them. I felt as though I should know what happens when we die. But all I could picture in my mind was darkness, pitch black nothingness. I would talk to my grandparent’s (my father’s parents who I never knew) in the dark, asking them to ask G-d for a sign of what I needed to know, what death was about. And then, for some reason, I went to bed without tears. I’d realized that death didn’t matter, and what came after it certainly didn’t matter. Our life here – both how we live it and how we choose to live it – were what I realized are most important. Suddenly I understood. (From my conversion essay.)
This was when I started believing. At least, that's when I remember believing. In something bigger than us. There was something, someone, sitting somewhere, guiding our thoughts and our hopes and our deeds, and that was all that made sense. The here and now being so important, someone had to be expecting something of us, right?

I spent the next nearly 10 years floating in and out of Christianity, clubs and getaways in high school geared toward "being saved," and anticipating the "big reveal." I was waiting for the moment when I'd believe all the stuff I was being told, that I had been told for so long. But it never came. In high school, I decided it was all a sham and I couldn't do it anymore. I declared myself an agnostic -- I believed in something, I just didn't know what it was, but I felt it at my core. I couldn't define it, no matter how hard I tried. I was agnostic, I denied praxis entirely, and maintained that there was something, but that was it.

One day, I outlined my principals of belief. One Higher Power (HaShem?), a focus on this life, living for the good, doing good things and not focusing on only doing them for a someday entrance into eternal life, wherever or whatever that was, being more conscious of the world around me, and figuring it out. I was on the search. That thing at my core was yearning, hungry, trying to crawl out of its cocoon, and as I grew, it grew, and in the early years of college, over a conversation with a friend, I discovered what it was; it was Judaism, haShem, the Jewish people.

I was once a non-believer, then I was some kind of believer, I was a Christian faker at one point (and I gave that up pretty quick, believe you me, I felt like I was misleading my friends), I was another kind of believer, and then I found what I was looking for. Will I always be so healthy in my relationship with HaShem? No. No one is. We're all imperfect. If we were perfect living in a perfect world then I'm pretty sure Mashiach would be enjoying this coffee with me right about now. The point is to search and inquire and ask questions in the hopes of developing a more well-rounded and clear answer to all of the BIG QUESTIONS out there, including whether HaShem is, was, will be, and whether Judaism is the right response to an individual's neshama.

I have no direct line to the answers, but this works for me, even as an ever-curious academic analyzing tough and contradictory topics within academia and Judaism. But the inquiring and searching -- Judaism DEMANDS it! I like to think of myself as one in a long line of individuals who have been able to inquire, think, and insist on exploring while also believing, wholeheartedly, in this big, great, amazing thing we call Judaism.

I don't think it's easy for everyone, but I'm proud that I can seek and believe, that I can ask and brim with faithfulness. My academic inquiries, truth be told, have brought me closer to my belief. Maybe I'm an anomaly.

8 comments:

Mama H said...

you write so beautifully! I teared up when you wrote about realizing that people die. Our journey in this life is a never ending one, and we can learn and grow from every experience if we choose to do so. you are choosing your way - I am so proud of you.

Lonely Frum Skeptic said...

I have been a lurker for a while, in response to one of your earlier posts I created my own blog, pls read it to see my struggled with beign raised frum but struggling with faith. lonelyfrum.blogspot.com
I really value your input.

יואב said...

But... what happened on that talk with a friend?
Why HaShem? Whay is THAT the answer and other things are not?
There are so many way to look at that "core", how was judaism the right answer for you?

shavuatov said...

Yay for this post, dearest Chavi! I sense some form of echo (but without the up close and personal relationship with Christianity) in me here.

To respond to the commenter up above, for me, it was an instinct. I can't explain it other than to say, it was meant to be.

And here's me, normally so logical and analytical...

M said...

Wow! I went through a very similar process, although I was raised Catholic and educated in a Catholic school for 9 years. My exploration began in college. Strange how lives can be so similar.

Tzach M. P. said...

I have a similar experience too. I was an avowed atheist in high school after having been raised in Lutheran churches my whole life. In hindsight I wasn't an atheist, just obstinate. In college I found Judaism, or it found me. For the last five years or so I've studied Judaism thoroughly (enough for someone who's not Jewish, I guess), and I've contemplated conversion. At this point it's just not happening though. I've begun considering the fact that I'm a gentile and have been put on this earth as such for a reason. It's not implausible that G-d would put me in the sphere that He wants me in. And better a righteous gentile than a bad Jew (or however that sentiment goes), right? I don't feel I have it in me to do it the right way, subjective as that may be. I still want to, I'll probably always want to. But I want to be everything at can't be everything, if that makes any sense?

It's good to read this post though. I like to know that there's a common experience shared between so many different people all over the place.

Chaviva said...

@Mama H Thank you, as always :) As my yiddishe mama, your pride in me means so much!

@LonelyFrumSkeptic Wow. I'm going to head over there post-haste to see what you have to say. I'm intrigued by your blog title, but I think it works. Hopefully we can fix that "lonely" part.

@Yoav The thing is, I can't really explain it. I wasn't *looking* for anything, let alone religion. It was just one of those topics freshman college students approach with vigor. I came out of that convo with nothing more than curiosity. But that curiosity led to the purchase of a book, then attendance at a shul, and then the feeling that I was finally home after spending my whole life trying to find that cozy, warm, squishy feeling of community, family, and love. My neshama was screaming in glee.

@ShavuaTov It is hard to describe. Instinct is right. It just "clicks."

@M I know, right? We're all snowflakes, but we come from the same sky.

@Tzach Your perspective is *really* fascinating for me. I suspect that if your neshama (soul) really desires Judaism, then you won't just be able to accept your fate as a righteous gentile. If you do, then perhaps HaShem's plan for you is such. I really admire your clarity on the issue, however. Many people don't have such a clear understanding of who they are to be able to come to such conclusions.

Minnesota Mamaleh said...

i really appreciated your thoughtfulness and heart-wrenching honesty here. this was a beautiful post. and the recognition of faith as a journey? brilliant. purely brilliant!

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