My husband and I are raising our kids in a secular home. He is a cultural Jew but very much unaffiliated. I was raised Catholic but am not currently "practicing." We have a couple of kids, one who is approaching what would be Bar Mitzvah age, and I find myself longing for spiritually for all of us. I am more open to this than my husband - through Judaism or other avenues of spirituality. I find myself feeling wistful for what were meaningful rights of passages and touchstones in my early life; I want to experience that again, and for my family to experience that too.
You share a struggle that is not only common for couples raised in different faith traditions, but one that many couples - both partners Jewish, both partners Catholic, etc - encounter when one is yearning for an experience of spirituality and observance, and the other is not. One thing that you have on your side is a positive experience with the touchstones that faith provided in your life. It’s beautiful that you’re interested in exploring this through Judaism. It might be more difficult, though, if your husband is resistant to revisiting his roots.
It is worth trying, Seeking.
For the past eight weeks, I have been practicing meditation with the guidance of Miriam Eisenberger, where the concept of “beginners mind” has been at play. And not just the idea of being a “beginner” at meditation (which I am). But, rather, the concept of seeing everything - every experience, every person, oneself - with newness and curiosity. This is hard. Last week we practiced just by holding a single grape — describing how this grape felt in our hands (cool and round), what it looked like (the shades of red and purple, the light reflecting off its sphere) how we braced for the anticipation of eating it (salivation). To take something so small and ordinary and experience it without expectation felt unusual and awkward, but also expanding and freeing.
It is a lot more challenging, say, to have your husband experience Judaism or spirituality as that grape. But what if that grape became your expectations of what your husband will experience when you bring him into a spiritual setting? At least, you can start there: freeing yourself from your anticipations of his experience.
My family took a vacation to Rhode Island this summer, where I have a deep affection for the old lighthouses. Our last night of the trip, we were driving back to the house; I had ice cream sundaes waiting for the kids. But my husband suggested one last jaunt to the lighthouse. I knew that I was the only person in the car interested in another trip to the lighthouse, and said, “Don’t worry about it,” anticipating my five-year-old’s reaction to delaying dessert. I signaled the turn to pull into the driveway.
“Well, let’s ask Autumn,” Dan said. “You want ice cream or to go to the lighthouse?”
“To the lighthouse.” she said.
Really, my five year old actually said “to the lighthouse.” I might have been crying at this point.
I don’t know if Autumn developed an interest in the lighthouse or if she had just recognized that it meant something to me. I’m grateful that I hadn’t shut out the possibility of being in that moment with her.
You mention that your son is approaching Bar Mitzvah age, and it sounds like this has stirred something in you. What are your hopes for him as he enters into young manhood? If there is something specific that you believe can be found in a spiritual community, express this to your partner. There are so many settings that you can explore, as a family, with newness and curiosity.
Your husband does not need to become an instant believer. He just has to have a beginner’s mind to be open to experiencing something as new. And you’ll need to have a beginner’s mind to let him.