By Shari Sachs
I like to tell people that I was “born Jewish”. I say that because I am not and never was a practicing Jew, nor were my parents or even my grandparents.
Our secular tendencies aside however, our family did get together to observe the high holy days in our own inimitable and traditional fashion. We ate.
Even on the holiest of high holy days Yom Kippur when Jews are commanded to fast, pray and spend the whole day in a temple as a means to atone for all the bad things we did all the other days of the year, our family still ate.
My parents were born and raised in the Bronx in the 1930s and 40s. I don’t think there were any non-Jews in their neighborhood. If there were I never heard about them in the stories they recounted. I grew up about 30 miles Northwest of there in a predominately Jewish area as well. In my youthful ignorance, I thought just about everyone was Jewish and if you weren’t Jewish you were a close cousin – -Italian.
The fact that one was a nationality and one was a religion did not seem illogical to me. I was Jewish just like my Italian friends were Italian, or my Irish friends Irish. It was a label that gave me a sense of belonging, a heritage but it did not provide me with any spiritual sensibility or any inner compass with which to guide my life by.
I wasn’t being taught to follow any kind of spiritual practice, but somehow I managed to acquire a fear of “Jesus” and anything associated with him, not the least of which was the very disturbing image of a tortured and bloody man nailed to and hanging from a cross, a terrifying sight for a little girl.
The fear was not learned by any formal indoctrination. It was just absorbed through the cultural ether , a consequence of stories overheard about how believers in Jesus blamed us Jews for crucifying him, how “they” persecuted us throughout the ages, and how programmed “they” were by the zealous worship that belief in Jesus seemed to create.
And despite my lack of having received any spiritual guidance or education, I always had a faint belief in “something” that was lurking behind what I could see with my five senses.
At a very young age I would talk to God, “out there” sensing a power beyond my small self. But as I grew older God had little application to my everyday life. As such, in my 20s and 30s, I became more secular, more preoccupied with the material world and the challenges of everyday life and living.
You might say I separated from God.
In my 40s however, something began knocking at the door of my soul. Something was missing. I had a great job, I was married, I was a mother to two beautiful children. I had my health. Even later, after enduring the trauma of a very embittered divorce, I still had a very blessed life and knew it.
So, I could not understand why I was still feeling so unfulfilled and so empty.
What was it that was missing? What was I searching for? I was awakening to the understanding of our spiritual nature and reality and as much as I liked my weekend outings to furniture and clothing stores, and acquiring things, I was needing something more than the material in my life to fulfill me.
Yet, the religion of Judaism, the practice itself, did not speak to me. Not wanting to betray my heritage, fearful that adopting any other religion would make me not Jewish, I became the cliché of a spiritual but not religious” person, delving into the “New Age/New Earth” philosophy and teachings.
I read hundreds of books, attended workshops, went on cruises with spiritual leaders, became a Super Soul Sunday Oprah fan. I became conversant in New Age language and thought preaching vociferously to anyone who wanted to engage on ideas about the ego versus the soul, present moment awareness, mindfulness, the illusion of our body and our physical reality, and love versus fear.
It was an expansive but safe pursuit of God and my own faith. As I was to learn later this doctrine I was adopting and proselytizing was just a modern day vernacular for everything that Jesus already said and already knew.
Yet, I was still unwilling to look Him in the eye.
As I entered my 50s, it became impossible to keep turning away from the light that was chasing me. The blessed life I had began unraveling, pushing me further into the kind of reflection that leads to an opening and softening of the heart, a willingness to seek understanding where there was only fear.
Slowly I became less and less afraid to learn what Jesus was all about and even became eager and hungry to understand more.
It also seemed to me that a lot of people were finding peace in their lives and becoming better people, once they followed his teachings. I knew it wasn’t the only path to God but it was the one that was starting to speak to me. No matter how hard I tried to poke holes in the theology I could not find anything wrong with the fundamental message.
Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor.
Love. Love. Love.
And so I went searching, more like wandering you might say replete with dark nights of the soul, dry deserts and a serpent or two along the way. Isn’t that what we all do, what the masters all did before they found their way?
Finally, after several unfulfilled attempts at trying to find spiritual resonance, I was led to a small, exquisite, glass encased chapel sitting atop a hilltop overlooking the Pacific ocean and nestled amongst redwood trees called the Wayfarer’s Chapel. The church is sponsored by a Christian faith with a funny, not well known name called the Swedenborgian Church, named after eighteenth century theologian and philosopher Edward Swedenborg).
As if the iconic beauty of it in and of itself was not enough to keep me coming back, its mission of being “a forward looking, open-minded Christian faith” and a “haven for seekers who share a quest for a religion that interconnects with all of life, encouraging inquiry, respect for differences and acceptance of other traditions of life and religion” sure did.
I felt like I had just hit the spiritual seeker’s jackpot. Finally. A spiritual path that was compassionate but also pious. Where I could answer my longing for a life filled with more prayer and devotion without considering myself – or anyone else – a sinner. Where I could integrate my beliefs about presence, spirit, love and forgiveness in a more exalted fashion. Where I could become a part of something bigger than myself. Where God was recognized as within me and in all things and not “out there”. Where I could go to church every week, and mean it. And a magnificent view to boot!
At the same time I was finding peace, I was also feeling tortured by this possibility. What would my parents say and would it hurt them? How could I deny thousands of years of heritage and struggle and preservation?
Could I still be Jewish?
But when I found this church I also found the answers to these questions.
I could be a Christian and Jew. Why not? Jesus was, wasn’t he?
In fact, I could be A Christian and a Buddhist and a Hindu and an atheist (if I wanted to) and still be Jewish.. I could follow the teachings of Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or Ghandi or all of them, or none of them, or of anyone I want and I will still Jewish.
The one thing I will always be is Jewish. Nothing can change that, even a “religious” belief as far as I am concerned. It is literally in my blood. It is my blood.
And I love being Jewish. And Christian. At the same time.
Just like Jesus.
Shari began her journey as a wanderer, dreamer, and an idealist who wanted to write stories, poetry, and save the world. Meandering sets of circumstances led her away from that calling and toward a long career as a business executive which she loved – until she didn’t.
Lurking underneath the thick skin of corporate identity that camouflaged her true essence was a soul waiting to be reborn.
In the last several years, Shari has been on a renewed journey of shedding this skin and reinventing herself as a storyteller, sage, stirrer of souls and overall humanity embracer. Shari’s mission in her writing is to show us what it means to be both human and divine.
Her newest venture is captured in the birth of this website, giving voice to the stories of people awakening in midlife.
Graceful After Midlife is the sister site to my original blog Graceful Under Fire, Embracing Being both Human and Divine.