I recently finished a fascinating and challenging book – “The Year of Living Biblically“, by A. J. Jacobs.
Mr. Jacobs is a secular New York Jew who decided to tackle the confusing issue of biblical literalness head-on – by spending a year trying to obey (almost) every rule in the Bible as closely as possible. The book chronicles his journey – overall it’s very funny, but in places unexpectedly moving and insightful. I won’t tell you how it ends, other than to say that he reports being changed by the experience in unexpected ways… because I want you should go and read it, already!
Reading this book started me thinking about my own engagement with my chosen religious traditions, and about religious inheritance. At one point, he says that living the Old Testament way was familiar and almost comforting – “I felt like I was trying on the robes and sandals of my forefathers.” And I have to admit, I have a somewhat similar feeling now when I attend a service at the synagogue – seeing my friends, participating in the familiar rituals and singing the (mostly) glorious music is rather like putting on a favorite old sweater.
I also have to admit that I don’t usually have that feeling about the rituals of my own religion, to say nothing of the religion I was actually raised in; whatever is the opposite of that feeling, is what I got the couple of times that I contemplated returning to Christianity. I’ve only been following Hellenism and Druidry for a few years, and we don’t really have a local pagan religious community (our Druid group has basically fallen apart as far as getting together for worship, although we all still see each other as the friends we were before we started worshiping together). I suspect our daughter is going to grow up thinking of herself as UU with a pagan coloring, which is not inherently a bad thing, I suppose, although I tend to think of us the other way round. But aside from a number of shrines scattered about the house, and performing basic home piety – offerings to Hestia and the occasional libation (we can’t burn incense because of my wife’s respiratory issues) – my paganism is more in the head and heart than in the hands.
I have said in previous posts that I was drawn to Hellenism partly because I see it as the ancestral religion of Western culture, and this is still true; but it’s also true that while the roots run deep, the branches are frequently well-hidden, and it often requires a lot of research to find the fruit… which leads me right back into the religion-in-the-head dilemma. I spend a LOT of time thinking and writing about religion, both mine and other people’s – probably more than is actually good for me, considering that I don’t get paid for it. If I could afford to go back to school, I think I’d get an MA in religious studies, just for fun.
But in the meantime, I wrestle with the question of how to remain engaged in a religion that sometimes brings me great comfort and a sense of complete rightness, but is missing the increasingly critical (to me) element of a worship community… and I just don’t know the answer.