This is a re-post of my guest blog on Interfaith Discussion.
The folks behind Interfaith Discussion Blog were nice enough to introduce themselves and invite me to participate in thisr new and promising forum. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be an amazing place. I’m certainly excited to watch it grow and grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on faith and family with you here.
I suppose it’s best to give you a little background about me. It might help shed some light on how I arrived where I am today and why I hold the views and perspectives that I do. I’m an only child born into a loving Midwestern American family. Although I grew up in the city, most of my extended family are Nebraska farmers with a tight sense of family, church and community. I was raised on a mixture of Lutheran and Catholic values, however I have to confess I wasn’t much of a church-goer. I’m a daughter, a mother, a wife, an author, and a human being.
Growing up without sisters or brothers, I learned to entertain myself and I was comfortable being alone. I spent many hours as a kid sitting up in the branches of our apple tree watching the sky and pondering life and this “god thing” they were teaching me about in Sunday school. There were things they said that confused me, but it opened a deep curiosity that’s driven me these past 50 years to look deeper and deeper for the answers. The two biggest questions: “What is God?”and “Who am I?” have been the torchlight.
This curiosity has led me to spend time living in the Middle East and India. Although that curiosity wasn’t the conscious aim or reason for my adventures (or misadventures), it led me to a broader view of humanity and different perspectives on faith, family and God. I’ve seen the best and the worst. But underneath it all, no matter what brand of worship people ascribe to, we are all essentially the same and one of our common denominators is family.
We all value our families. We just do it a little differently. In our western countries, we encourage our children once fledged to fly the nest and make their way. We wish them well, hold them in our hearts, but don’t place heavy expectations on them to stick close by, not that we don’t wish they would. In the East and Middle East the family unit is held more tightly together physically. Extended families often live together in the same homes, each generation assisting the next. I knew a family in Egypt who took this so seriously, the family patriarch required cousins to marry cousins to keep their family “pure” and together, all living in the same family-owned apartment building. In India, children are a couple’s retirement plan and assurance that their needs will be met in old age. Several generations often live together. In both cultures, spouses are usually chosen by the families to assure the most advantageous fit into their fold. Love marriages aren’t the norm as they are in the West.
I have to admit this has left me conflicted about my own family. Now that I’m in India, it’s not easy being so far away from them. I worry. I fret. And most assuredly I miss them; sometimes unbearably. There’s always that tug of war between living my life and my longing to still be close to them. One thing is certain in all this, and one of the most valuable lessons we can all learn from family is love knows no distance or boundary. In my heart and thoughts they are always as close to me as if they were under my roof. No number of years or miles can change that.
I no longer follow any specific faith, but I do remain true to my inner journey. I hold my spirituality dear with unwavering commitment and I’m finding a level of peace within myself I never dreamed possible. It comes when I immerse myself in silence. There I can commune with the answers to all of my questions and can find surety. I don’t give it a name because I know if I do, I pollute it. All I can do is go forward and let those answers live in me and be expressed through who am I and what I do. That, to me, is the elusive Truth.
I’ve also come to learn, while in this silent place, there is a broader definition of “family” and it’s one we easily forget. Although my own family holds a special place in my heart, my extended family, and yours, is humanity. We may not meet, we may never know what the other looks like, we may hold different views and beliefs, do things in different ways, but we share the same home; Earth. We are related. This may sound idealistic, but to me it’s a truth I can no longer question.
The religions teach us this but it requires moving outside the comfort zone of fellowship to embrace it. That’s where faith comes in. Daring to be brave enough to walk the talk with those who are different without differentiating yourself. The beliefs belong in the heart not the mouth. Their expression should neither judge those who are different nor require them to be any different than they are. Faith should guide us into this human family with a sense of celebration that we are all unique, all doing the best we can. They should express themselves through the same approach we use with our own little families. Let love and loving ways be the guide as we face disagreements and resolutions–because we are family. We mustn’t forget that and never forget the love that binds us all.