I called my mother last night and told her that I’m giving serious thought to converting. I didn’t say a whole lot about my reasons; I really don’t see a need to bum her out by talking about how I don’t think the prophecies fit Jesus and that there’s no indication of the Messiah being God incarnate. She already knows, of course, that I’ve always had a weird, inexplicable attraction to Judaism. And she said she thought it was a good thing to explore, and she was supportive of my dietary changes even if I have to move back home again. Apparently for Pesach the little grocery store in my tiny hometown got some brisket in, so there’s always the possibility that they might order things in–it’s the kind of place where the owners know everyone in town.
We also talked a lot about our disappointment with Catholicism. Maybe I should emphasize here that everyone in my family is inclined to traditional attitudes of obedience to the Church. My dad had a lot of disputes in the Anglican church over liturgy, since he was heavily involved in it, and he taught me that you can always have an opinion (and you should be able to back it up with solid sources), but if the priest shuts you down you say “Yes, Father.” My mother taught me that the Church as an institution is full of ordinary human beings, but in the long run it resolves its internal problems and remains morally relevant, and we have to be patient. We’re a liberal, intellectual family, but it would have never occurred to us in the past to say that the Pope is just behaving like a criminal or that the Church is going steadily downhill rather than uphill. And we wouldn’t have said it because we didn’t believe it, not because we were afraid to speak our minds. We gave them the benefit of the doubt.
So it bothers me a lot to let things end this way, even though I feel like my conversion is long overdue. The two things aren’t connected up that much: even when I wasn’t totally out of patience with the RCC I still felt a deep longing and affinity for Judaism. I wanted to be part of that world but felt like there were too many obstacles, that it wasn’t something I could really do. Now my frustration is overcoming my inertia and the fears I have surrounding change (what will my friends think, what if the rabbis all refuse, what if I look stupid, etc.).
Also, at the same time as I’m sorting through this, the American Woman is going through all the stuff one accumulates from a Mormon upbringing. We rant and roar together about structures and hierarchies, getting unsatisfying answers to questions, being told to pray until the unsatisfying becomes satisfying, having no recourse. We drain the swelling, and each time there’s a little less. Have I mentioned she’s amazing? Because yeah. I lucked out.
There’s a Northern Irish proverb that goes, “God kicks with both feet, and keeps His shoes clean.” I’ve adopted it as a sort of motto for the sheer exhaustion one feels sometimes while trying to process all this. It often feels like we’re being punished just for caring, for trying to do the right thing. A wonderful gift I’ve received in reading about Judaism and praying with the siddur is that God’s presence and personality emerge from the texts and I know that it’s not Him who’s kicking. These are strictly human problems. God is bigger.
A night drive to Ein Yahav in the Arava Desert,
a drive in the rain. Yes, in the rain.
There I met people who grow date palms,
there I saw tamarisk trees and risk trees,
there I saw hope barbed as barbed wire.
And I said to myself: That’s true, hope needs to be
like barbed wire to keep out despair,
hope must be a mine field.
– Yehuda Amichai