I’ve made a few Rumi references, so I just wanted to explain myself a bit.
I was brought up in a generally religion-free household. My mother’s family is Catholic with a few Evangelicals, while my father’s family ranges from atheist (my dad) or apathetic to Southern Baptist. As a nuclear family we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but never went to church. The first time I read the Bible was in college (I totally skipped over the Kings Lists in the Old Testament…sorry).
7abibi and his family are Reform Jews who have very graciously allowed me to participate in their family traditions and learn about their faith. I’ve added Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Channukah and Passover to my calendar of holidays. I’m currently scouting out a collection of tasty recipes sans chametz, a task somewhat embittered by the fact that Passover happens to coincide with the final rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. However, I would consider myself an interested observer as opposed to a practitioner or convert. I haven’t really begun the serious spiritual and emotional work that I would have to do before I even considered conversion.
I spent quite a bit of time studying Islam as a part of my BA (Linguistics and International Studies, focusing on Arabic and the Middle East). I have been able to meet and make friends with many Muslims of varying backgrounds and traditions. This by no means makes me an expert in Islam, but it does make me an appreciative student of the faith.
Clearly, I’ve had experience with the Abrahamic faiths, but it was always from an outsider’s or student’s perspective. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to move past merely studying religion. What if my parents, in trying to give me a choice, instead robbed me of the ability to carry out said choice, because I can’t ever feel, perform, or belong properly to any religion? Another part of me wonders if this is something even people raised in religious homes struggle with, just with an additional inertia in a particular faith. I am lucky to count among my friends Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Atheists, Agnostics, Wiccans, Baha’i, Hindus, Sunnis, Shi’a, and even a modern-day Sufi. But I am unlucky in that I feel they all have some kind of idiom, community, connection –something– that I am missing and will never find.
Again, I rely on “the longing is the answer” for comfort.
I must admit that Jalal Ud-Din Mohammad Rumi always touches me in a way that I can’t quite explain and explains me in a way I can’t quite touch:
“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not Any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
I am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.”
– Jalal Ud-Din Muhammad Rumi, p32 The Essential Rumi
trans. Coleman Barks, emphasis my own