Monday, 5 October 2009

So, what, I'm Jewish now? Part I

Well, not quite.

I guess you could say that I have been lucky where religion is concerned, in the sense that I have never been trapped in the mire of Fire and Brimstone.

I was raised a Methodist. Every Sunday my Mum would encourage my sister and I to put on nice clothes and walk a mile to church. Every week I would complain "but do I have to go? Can't I stay here with Dad?" "No" my Mum insisted "Come on, put your shoes on. We don't want to be late"

At the time I was a little confused. God wouldn't mind if we were a little late - He is All Forgiving, isn't he? "Yes, but your Dad wants to start practising his bagpipes"

Oh, best make a move then. Bagpipes were all very well in an open field, but not in a 3 bed detached in Essex. I knew that Dad had started playing the bagpipes when he was in the army. What I didn't learn until later was that when he joined the army he was given a choice for Sundays - go to church or join the band. He joined the band.

Every week I would try to get out of Sunday School and most weeks I failed. I'm not sure why I didn't want to be with the other kids but I suspect it was because it was too much hard work. In Sunday school I actually had to learn stuff, whereas in church I would sit and listen and fidget and sing the psalms in a reedy, high pitched voice. Old before my time, I always wanted to listen to what the Reverend had to say.

Our Reverend was sensible and kind and apart from learning a little about Jesus and the Apostles, the main message I took away was one of Love. Be kind, be helpful, speak your truth, support others and don't judge. Every week we would get home from church and Mum would shout "We're home! You can stop with that bloody awful racket now!" and I wondered whether she had been listening at all.

When I was 11, the family broke apart and my Mum, sister and I moved to Peterborough. We stopped going to church, which I thought was probably sensible because my Mum had just left my Dad for another man and I didn't think God would be very happy with that.

I started Secondary school, which again was very religion-lite. The Headmaster gave one "religious" assembly a week but his teachings were very much in line with my previous experience, based on common sense and how kindness can help people pull together. I remember him suggesting that perhaps Jesus didn't feed people magically with 2 fishes and 5 loaves of bread, but instead the crowd were inspired to share what they had.

I liked listening to the stories. It was a comfort to hear that people could be nice to each other, to consider that miracles could possibly happen without the waving of a magic wand. But at the same time I found a separation within myself - God could not possibly exist - or at least if he did, he had forgotten about me altogether.

My teenage years were nothing short of a living nightmare, with every day bringing a new fear, a new reality, more pain, more confusion. Where was God now? If he was sitting on a cloud, he certainly wasn't keeping an eye on me.

When I was 12 I had been given a copy of the Desiderata. Through all of the hard times, two sentences continued to resonate with me: You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.

I clung to those words. I needed to know the reason for all of my pain - why my life was unfolding the way it was. In fact, I think that these words have kept me away from the edge so many times, in desperation that one day, everything would make sense and I would be able to answer the question "Why Me?" The existence of those words gave me hope.

Just before I left home, when things were just about as bad as they could be, I read "Schindler's Ark" by Thomas Keneally and was further inspired by the words "If you die today, you will never know what happened to you." So many times I just wanted to take myself off the face of the planet. I'd had enough, no, more than I could take. But what if next week everything changed? What if life was going to get better from now on? It would be foolish to miss it.

I left home at the age of 18, keeping religion at arms length, taking each day as it came, waiting for the happy ending. Apart from the occasional prayer in my darkest hours, I had forgotten all about God, as I was certain that he had forgotten all about me. I didn't even pursue anything spiritual. Everything was as it was.

All I remember is that whenever someone asked me "Do you believe in God?" I would answer "well, I believe that there is something out there"

And there is.

I haven't addressed the Jewish theme at all, have I? Never mind. No doubt this story is unfolding as it should....


  1. And an interesting - if slightly harrowing - story it is. We are, I suppose, the product of our genes and our environment, both of which contribute to our experiences. My experiences have steered me away from what you may call "spiritual" beliefs although I can quite understand how yours have made such beliefs an important part of your life.

  2. I'm sorry your teen years were so painful and confusing, I had some similar feelings but for different reasons. I look forward to your future postings and will leave a note when I find the resource I mentioned previously.