Using Marriage

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Eighteen years ago today, I was a young bride walking down the aisle to promise before God and everyone that I would “be true” to the man I’d fallen in love with “until death.”

Like most people, Ted and I can’t believe how the years since that day have flown.  How that day seems as though it were both a lifetime ago and only yesterday.

This got me to thinking about  what I would say to someone if they asked  what our “secret” is to staying married.  (For the record, no one has asked, but isn’t that why I blog?)

The first thought that came to mind is that I could point to two shining examples among many in our families.  This 18th year of marriage for us is bookmarked neatly between two other anniversary milestones in our families:  my parents’ 45th and his parent’s’ upcoming 50th.  Through our parents (and grandparents–Ted and I were dating at my grandparents’ 60th anniversary!), both of us have witnessed great examples of  how to struggle through the difficult times, suffer through the painful times, and celebrate the joyful times–always together.

I also always liked the answer I saw on a Dr. Phil episode once.  (Eye roll.  I know.  Dr. Phil).  Still, I thought it was a good answer.  He said a woman who’d been married 60 years was asked what her secret was, she said, “I guess we never fell out of love at the same time.”  I think there’s truth to that, too.  Even if it’s a little depressing to think about.

Most recently though, I’ve come across an answer I like best as it best fits Ted and I.  It was a story about how in the Orthodox faith there is first a civil ceremony that is celebrated in the public arena for all to see, and it’s followed by a second sacramental ceremony.

You do not have to do the second ceremony.

But in order to celebrate it, you have to make a choice to enter into it.

The article said that the second ceremony is the celebration of the choice to have that marriage, which is already a marriage, “crowned by the wisdom, glory and meaning of the cross of Christ.”

Now, as a Catholic, I could argue that because our wedding took place in a Catholic church, where marriage is taught as and considered a sacrament, that Ted and I made that choice and had the public and the sacramental marriages combined into one.  And it wouldn’t be entirely untrue.  But, if I’m really honest, the truth for me is that I wasn’t thinking about any of that back then.  I was thinking about how much I liked wearing my white dress, how neat my manicure turned out, and how fun our reception was going to be.

I wasn’t thinking about sacraments  (or even God for that matter), much at all.

But, I believe that somewhere in our eighteen years, we’ve both made the decision to enter into that second ceremony.

Through the years we have “washed each other’s feet” in service to one another.  (Not literally.  I don’t do feet.  But you get the gist).  We have celebrated the “eucharist” of marriage by taking, blessing, breaking and giving parts of ourselves to each other in ways that only two people who have trust, and faith and love for God, for each other, and for themselves can do.  And we have taken parts of ourselves that we’ve  loved and we’ve witnessed their painful “crucifixion”.  We have struggled, and suffered and let parts of us die for the betterment of the other.  For the betterment of the two of us over the one.  And while one was suffering an inner crucifixion, the other of us has stood by as witness, holding on to faith, standing by in hope, and letting go in love, trusting the process for the other, willing them on to endure the pain to witness the healing and joys of a “resurrection,” a new life, on the other side.

For me, the answer to staying married is to be willing to go “all the way.”  Now, to any 20-year-old that expression has a very shallow meaning and can be complete in a five-minute interlude on the wedding night (or in many cases before).

But, for me, our only “secret” to a lasting marriage is that each of us, in our own way, and in our own time, has made the choice to use our marriage and enter the Mystery.

Marriage as the Mystery of the Cross.

Marriage as the Mystery of Christ.

Marriage as the Mystery of Love that is God.

Marriage as a daily choice.

It may not be what you were looking for.  It may not sound romantic.

But, after 18 years, that’s the only “secret” I have to offer.

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21 Days

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By this midpoint of Lent, I hope you’re finding your Lenten journey has been fruitful!  It is amazing the things that can be revealed to us, as we sit quietly in the desert of our hearts.

I’ve had a bit of a startling realization myself this morning.  Although, to be honest it really shouldn’t be that startling, because it’s almost always the same realization, shown to me in a new way:  the realization that I have a real knack for getting in God’s way.

This morning’s realization came to me after finally writing out in my journal exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish when I began this blog last Lent.  And when I wrote out those memories of what I’d hoped to achieve, I had to face the reality of what was wrong now.

Here’s what I remember about my reasons for the launching of The Mystic Mom:

1.  To share with “the world” (which at that time consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and a few friends of mine–Hi, Faithful Readers!), how I “see” God working in my life all the time.  Since I felt that the “mud had been wiped from my eyes” after reading several books by and about mystics (in various faiths…not just Christianity) I wanted to share how the Being that I call God really is a very ordinary and real part of our everyday lives.

And that’s it!  That was the start and end of my list at that time for starting this blog.

But, here’s where I get in the way.  Because as soon as I hit that “publish” button for the first time, a whole new list of thoughts began to form.  You know, those sneaky little thoughts that you try not to even entertain, but somehow seep into your being and attach themselves to the other, simpler, intention?  Thoughts like:

  1. Maybe someone would tell me how much my writing has changed their life.
  2. Maybe that person will tell some other people and one of those people will be a publisher.
  3. Maybe that publisher will want me to write a book.
  4. Maybe I won’t have an idea for a book, and my one chance for ever writing one will be gone!
  5. On the other hand, maybe I will have an idea for a book and it will be published, but not sell.
  6. Or, maybe that book will be a New York Times best seller!
  7. Maybe I will become famous for that best seller.
  8. Maybe I will have to travel the country promoting my book.
  9. Maybe I’ll have to travel the world!
  10. Who is going to watch my children while I’m traveling the world?
  11. Will my husband be jealous that I’m now traveling the world and the kids are more his responsibility than ever?
  12. Will our marriage survive this jealousy?
  13. What will we do with all the money, too?  Will we give it to charity, or hoard it for ourselves and become all focused on riches and wealth and forget all about God?
  14.  OK, Reality check.  The book will never get written.  The world doesn’t need another book.  Especially a book by me.
  15.  I’ll just blog sometimes.  For fun.
  16. Or , when I have something really important to say.   And that I know is coming from God.
  17. And also if I have the time to blog. If I don’t have the time that’s OK, too.  God will surely understand that.  I mean, he blessed me with motherhood three times over.  Surely he knows how busy I am!
  18. God probably doesn’t really need me to say anything anyway.  He’s got a whole slew of angels to deliver his messages.
  19. Plus, there are lots of better messengers than me.  More gifted.  More talented.  Just…better.
  20.  Why am I doing this again?

Do you see what happened there?  Over the course of the past year, I’ve drifted away from my original intention of taking my enthusiasm for understanding God through mysticism to “the world” and convinced myself that I should fear failure, and success, and just about everything in between.  So the posts have dwindled, the keyboard was broken, and The Mystic Mom was silenced.

And in that silence, God was able to be heard.

So this morning, when I  asked God to walk me through this whole process again and show me what it is HE intended (if anything) for me on this whole blogging journey, he very conveniently pointed out how far I’d strayed from my original intention.

Then he very conveniently also pointed out the one thing I’d promised to “give up” this Lent…my excuses.

And I know from experience, that excuses can only be extinguished with actions.  If I begin to act, then the excuses disappear.  This type of action is called discipline (from the word disciple), and it takes a lot of effort–especially in the beginning–to follow, and trust, and allow yourself to be transformed in the being God intended you to be.

For me, the act of discipline is, in most cases, the same thing as forming new habits.  I’ve heard it said that forming a habit takes only 21 days. I hope that’s true.  That’s why I’m announcing today that I will now be forming the habit of publishing a blog post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the end of Lent.  I will also tweet and post some other encouraging words on my Facebook page five days a week. 

It’s a start.  I don’t promise my posts will be good.  And I’ll probably surely fail the schedule at least a few times.  But, I promise I’ll get up again, when I do.   Also, in the beginning at least, I’ll probably be doing a lot of sharing of other people’s writings and words instead of my own.  But it’s the action of writing every day that I need in order to get rid of the excuses.

I learned a long time ago that what the Catholic church calls “sacraments” are really actions, not things.  They are actions of God for people.  We call them visible signs of invisible grace.    They are not “received” by us, so much as they are “celebrated” by us.  Because God is always everywhere, so is His grace ever-present.  Sacraments are the principal action through which Christ gives his Spirit to Christians and makes us a holy people.  We celebrate by affirming, honoring and praising our life in Christ through the sacraments.

With that reminder, I am now keenly aware that my writing…this blog, my journal, (a book?), whatever…is my sacrament.

My only real “job” here is to TAKE the experiences God gives me, BLESS them with a grateful heart, BREAK them into a lesson, and GIVE that lesson to others.

Why would I want to make an excuse for that?

I Will Always Be A Rule Breaker

Over the years,  through a process of prayer and discernment I’ve become more aware of how I judge others.  Don’t let the word discernment intimidate you.  Discernment is really a fancy name for taking notice of our choices in life, and asking for (then interpreting and following) God’s advice.  In many cases, it’s where our gift of human reason gets sprinkled with some Divine Intervention.  Through this process we learn a lot (sometimes painfully) about others and ourselves.

One painful experience I had with this process took place a few years back.  I was waiting to pick my kids up at school and saw a young mom standing with a child on her hip, waiting for her other children to be dismissed from school.  On her shoulder, I noticed a tattoo of  a giant feathered wing of some sort (I presumed part of an eagle) and some writing as well.  I couldn’t read the writing at all, but upon seeing this enormous  (and, in my opinion– obnoxious– tattoo) I did a mental eye roll and turned away at the sight of it.

Ugh.  Tattoos!  I thought , Why do people think they need these??  And what kind of mother goes around with a giant one on her shoulder, like that?

It was that second sentence that, moments later, stung me the most.

As the woman moved closer to me, I could make out the words on the tattoo.  It turned out the wings were not those of an eagle, but of an angel.  And the letters spelled the name of her dead son.  I knew his name because it was unique, and I’d noted it as I’d read about him in the newspaper only a few weeks before.  The article had been about his battle with brain cancer, and their family’s struggles as they balanced jobs,  three other children, and his illness.  It ended with his losing the battle before  he’d celebrated his second birthday.

In that moment, my own thought came back at me with a stinging slap and I realized exactly  “what kind of mother she was.”  She was “the kind of mother” who had experienced depths of sorrow and grieving beyond anything I could even imagine.  She was “the kind of mother” who had seen her infant son’s face twist and wrench into pangs of terror and shrieks of agony beyond anything humanly imaginable.  She was the “kind of mother” who had to answer the difficult questions  of why from her three other children, as they struggled with the loss of their brother, doing her best to answer when she herself couldn’t even really know.

And I wondered why I’d thought it logical and acceptable to cheapen and limit the depth of her motherhood all because of a tattoo.

In that moment of facing my horrible judgment of another, I realized I had a choice.  I could either dismiss and defend my thought by saying to myself something as ridiculous as, Well, even so, I would never get my child’s name tattooed on my shoulder!”   (I mean, while that’s probably true because as a matter of preference I still don’t like tattoos–I also don’t like  skinny jeans or crocheted toilet covers– that was hardly the point).   The point is that her tattoo, in memory and honor of her angelic son, was also a simple matter of her personal taste.  The fact that I’d tried to judge her personal taste to be a reflection of her  ability to parent, was my problem not hers.

I could only think of one thing to do.

I searched deep within my heart and asked, What would You have me do now?   And the answer came so swift and sure, I had no doubt:  pray.

So I did.

Every time I saw her.  (And, not by accident I’m sure, I saw her nearly every day).

Of course, I’d see her mostly at school pickup, but sometimes randomly around town, too.  And each and every time, no matter what kind of frenzied pace I was keeping in order to conquer my day’s activities, I would slow down, at least for a moment, and pray.  I prayed for her, for her children at home, for her spouse, for their health, and for their son in heaven.

I also prayed for me.  I prayed for forgiveness of my petty judgments (including those yet undetected), for the blessing of motherhood, for the gift of healthy children, and for the need to be reminded (often!) of the fact that despite our personal tastes, despite our harshest criticisms of others, the truth of the matter is that most of the time we’re all just doing the best we know how with the cards we’ve been dealt.

As a result, I no longer worry about “breaking” the rule that says, “Do not judge.” (Mt 7:1)  In my fallen human state, I doubt I’m any more likely to follow that law to the letter than I am of driving the speed limit.  Instead, I do the only thing I know to do:  I observe my judgments as I become aware of them, and I ask in the depths of my heart, What would You have me do now?

And what I get in return is never the finger-wagging reprimand with a harsh command to stop judging, that I feel I deserve.  No.  Instead, I most often get the simple gift of seeing how my harshest, pettiest judgments can be turned into loving actions for others (and even myself).

And that is a “breaking” of a whole other sort.

It’s judgment transformed.

“Do Not Judge!” (Oh,But I Do…)

The older I get, the more I understand that any rule I am given out of concern for my own well-being, is worth taking a second look at.  Especially because such rules, at first glance, are ridiculously easy to understand, (i.e., go on green, stop on red), but many more, while just as easy to comprehend are far more difficult to carry out  (i.e., while I understand a speed limit of 55 mph means that 55 mph should be my maximum speed for the safety of myself and those around me, I very often go 60 mph because that is the speed that I deem will keep me “safe” from getting a speeding ticket).   Such rules, then, as we grow more confident and comfortable with the intention of them, quickly become something we dub to be “rules of thumb” rather than “hard and fast” rules (i.e., don’t drink and drive).

Many of the rules that Jesus gives us can begin the same way:   easy to understand, but difficult to follow.  Most recently, I came across this passage in my Bible study class on the Gospel of Matthew:  “Do not judge” (Mt 7:1).  And upon reading this, I was hit with two thoughts:  Yikes!  That sounds impossible!   and almost at the same time:   Thank goodness I don’t judge people as much as some people I know!  (Read that sentence again if you missed the irony of it).

The truth is that both of my reactions to this rule are just that:  reactions.  And reactions,  by their very nature, don’t take into account the larger picture of the reason for the rule.  Reactions don’t cast light on the myriad of ways in which we judge others, ourselves, and even God.   In fact, because I was so busy reacting, it wasn’t until I read the passage a second time that I was even able to comprehend the rest of the sentence–the part that  explains WHY we shouldn’t judge– “so that you may not be judged.” (Mt 7:1)

I was reminded then of how, years earlier, I’d made a Lenten promise to “give up” my sins of judgment and jealousy.  Now, I knew this would be a challenge, but I thought I could at least go a day or two before I would really be tested in the process of “giving them up.”  Much as He always does, though, God had other plans.

Ash Wednesday morning, (a.k.a. the FIRST DAY of Lent), I had a petty thought about a friend of mine:  I immediately “predicted” she would fail to “properly observe” the Holy Day by wiping off the ashes on her forehead after attending morning Mass.  (As Catholics, we are taught from a young age that doing so is a big “no-no”).  I’m embarrassed for having entertained this thought now on so many levels, but at the time, I didn’t see my “prediction” as a judgment at all.   I merely saw it as a “logical prediction of future behavior based on past behavior” and all but accepted it as “fact.”   Later that day, when I bumped into my friend,  I was shocked to see the ashes still on her forehead.   Shocked only because I’d been proven wrong.

After some introspection, (a.k.a. an inner tantrum-throwing fit whereby I attempted to vehemently defend my inexcusable judgment of my friend to God), I was able to be grateful for the gift of having been shown my fault.  If my friend had behaved as I’d expected, I would likely have been able to go the course of the entire day patting myself on the back for having successfully “given up” my sins by having made no judgments at all.  It was only in being proven wrong, that my eyes were opened to the fact that I’d judged my friend.

To this day, I think that being wrong about such a “prediction”  of my friend’s behavior on the first day of Lent was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I shudder to think about how long it may have taken me to realize that I was judging someone else if my “prediction” had been “right.”

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 4

I know.  I’m a big fat liar.

“Read about my top five books in the next five days,”  I bragged.  (As if it really is a habit of mine to post EVERY day.)

*sigh*

Well,  you can take the procrastination out of the girl, but you can’t take the girl out of the….

Eh. Never mind.  I’ll tell you another time.

For now– RIGHT now– I’d like to go ahead and reveal that book that’s been waiting at my #2 spot since last Thursday or so.  Because this one took the Word of God (a.k.a. Scripture, a.k.a the Bible) and just broke it WIDE OPEN for me.  And I do mean WIDE.  And OPEN.

Because after reading this book I FINALLY got what so many of you had long since understood:  that the words in the Bible are about God.  And me.  And God in me.  And you.  And God in you.  And God in you and me.  And you and me in God.

And not 2000+ years ago when he walked the earth as Jesus, but right now.  Here.  Today.  Everything still applies.  Especially when you do what the title of this book commands and enter the story

2.  Enter the Story: Biblical Metaphors for Our Lives by Fran Ferder

This book and what it holds within its pages is more difficult for me to write about than the rest.  Mostly, because it is the book that I feel is responsible for helping me to “see” Biblical moments when I live them.  Ferder brings so much of these stories to the here and now of our lives that all I feel I can do is encourage you to read it, too.

And let it change you.

Let your eyes open because of it.

For me, personally, what happened after reading this book is that I now have an awareness of these Biblical “moments of grace” as they are happening.  And it nearly takes my breath away.  And I’ll show why.

In this book I walked  each step with Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem for the birth of her child.  A child she had no part in creating (She was a virgin, after all).  A child she only felt the first flutterings of in her heart, opened herself to the possibility of giving birth to, and raising.  Simultaneously relishing and fearing the love, sweat and tears it would entail to raise it.  How daunting that God would ask her– HER– of all people, to do this.  Why her?  Why there?  Why then?  The answers to those questions were not hers to know.  It would require a great amount of trust on her part.  And a great amount of courage.  So much could go wrong.  But when “the angel of the Lord” appeared and made it undeniable that she was being asked to give birth to the child that would be the Word of God made flesh.  All she could do was say, “Yes.”

In my own life I walked these steps with Mary, but it looked like this:  I found myself near to bursting (you might even say “pregnant”) with a desire to write.  Write about God, about life, and about God in my life.  I was full of worry and doubt and fear, and I had no real hand in creating this desire or the ability to carry it out.  But I  knew what I had to do.  Or wanted to do.  Or both.  And then despite all my fears and doubts and worries, I was suddenly hit with a moment of peace.  A moment of calm.  Though I saw no angel, I was so calm that if one had appeared at that moment I swear it wouldn’t have unnerved me.  I would have just been like, “Hey, Gabriel, how’s it going?”  Because I knew.  I knew what Mary knew.  I knew that there was no room for fear because when it comes to matters of the heart like these,  you find that despite all “common sense,”  all “reason,” all the so-called facts, you still must say yes.   Even if the thing you love is certain to fall short of everyone’s expectations (including your own), or even die a slow, painful death, saying yes is still (and always) worth it.

So I looked to the heavens and I said YES right then and there.

It was the first day of Lent.

I put down Ferder’s book…and I gave birth to this blog.

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 3

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

So here it is (a day late, with my apologies).  It’s a bit daunting finding the words to introduce the one book that more than any of the others on this list “washed the mud from my eyes.” (John 9:13-15)  So, for once in my life, I won’t even try.

Drumroll, please…

3.  The Naked Now:  Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr

To date, this book  is one of the most life-changing books I’ve read.

Did you hear me?  I said

THE.

MOST.

LIFE-CHANGING.

This book brought to light much of what I’d learned in the previously two mentioned books, but more importantly it finally gave me answers to the nagging thoughts and questions I still had after reading them.  In this book, once and for all, I became aware of the polarizing way in which our minds are shaped from a young age about right/wrong, left/right, either/or thinking.   And here, Fr. Rohr shared what he calls “nondualistic” or, more simply “both/and” thinking.  It is this type of mindset– this type of heartfelt contemplation– that is the mystical way of greeting the world.  It is also what I think Dr. Phil means when he asks his famous question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

It truly was life-changing to suddenly realize how sticking to what we believe is “right” is a great way to stay sedentary in our thoughts and in life itself.   Happiness doesn’t come from being right all the time.   That kind of happiness– when we have to fight and grind and bully our way into changing someone else’s  thought processes so that we can celebrate our personal victories –is self-serving and short-lived.  Happiness comes from choosing happiness.  In everything.  Finding joy in pain.  Noticing our own shadows in the light.  Being present in each moment we are given.  Rohr states in his introduction to the book,

“The early, but learned pattern of dualistic thinking can only get us so far; so all religions at the more mature levels [my emphasis] have discovered another “software” for processing the really big questions, like death, love, infinity, suffering, and God.  Many of us call this access “contemplation.”  It is a nondualistic way of seeing the moment.  Originally, the word was simply “prayer.”

It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad or ugly, and how to let them transform us.  Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.

When you can be present you will know The Real Presence.  I promise you this is true.

And it is almost that simple.”

And to think this is only the introduction!

What happened for me in this book, was that almost from the beginning  (but most definitely by the end), a peace came to my heart about so many things I’d struggled with (specifically in regards to religion, but it’s applicable to everything) over the years.  Suddenly, I didn’t have to change my religion to be “right.”  And I didn’t have to insist that someone else change theirs to be “right” either.  Because no single one of us (or group of us) is “right.”   ALL OF US are “right” when we allow ourselves to be lifted to those more mature levels of religion where we are (again and again) transformed by God.   That’s when we’re free to move about within–and paradoxically beyond–the boundaries and paramenters of our various religions into the realm of  simply knowing God.   “Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent,” says Rohr.

It’s no wonder we, in our various religious traditions for countless centuries now, insist on these so-called “holy” wars.  We are so busy insisting to “the others” that they need to know and love God the same way we do, we seldom stop to hear what it is they know and think and feel about God.

This thinking about religion and transformation and mysticism brought to my mind an image.  I pictured people we all know who are surely examples of people living (or who lived) at the “more mature levels” of their respective religious traditions sitting around the same table:  Mother Teresa.  Gandhi.  The Dalai Lama.  Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Hold that image for a moment.

What do you see?

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them getting into fights or stomping off mad and insistent that one of their experiences of God/Love/Truth/Divinity was better than the others.  And they certainly didn’t rally their followers into starting a war.

And suddenly with that image, I knew WHO I was meant to be in this world, and HOW I was meant to be in this world.

I realized that like them, we’re all meant to share the same space together in a peaceful, relaxed, respectful and truly loving way–and I don’t mean loving in the sentimental way that we say in cards and poems with little hearts and rainbows.  I mean loving in its truest sense.   That purest of loves that exists in the quiet energy of our being.   That place where we are so content and secure with God-in-us, that the only thing we could actively will on another is a desire to see God-in-them and to allow it to look differently than we may expect.

After that, it seems, the rest is just details.

The Five Books That Have Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 2

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

From time to time people who’ve read my blog have asked me for suggestions about what books I’d recommend they read.  (I’m speaking about popular culture here, not Sacred texts like the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, etc.  I think that goes without saying, doesn’t it?)  This is always a tricky question to answer because everyone has a different journey experience, a different past, and different wants/needs for where they are going.

That being said, I can tell you which books really launched my awareness and shaped my thinking along the spiritual journey that is my life, as well as why and how they’ve shaped me:

4.  The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew — Three Women Search for Understanding  by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

If you’ve not heard about how this book came to be, that story is pretty interesting in and of itself.   The idea for it began with the intention of being a children’s book to help kids better understand the similarities between religions (the Abrahamic traditions, specifically) after the events of September 11, 2001.  But, when the woman who had the idea, Ranya Idliby, a Muslim, got together with the other two authors, a Christian and a Jew (hence the title), they quickly realized they had many of their own personal issues to face and overcome before they could write something to bring children together.   To my knowledge their children’s book never did get written.  They wrote this book instead.

This book had in it the beginnings of an answer for me to  a life-long troubling question.   I was born into what the Catholic Church of the 1960’s and 70’s (and still today, I believe) called  a “mixed marriage.”    This meant I was the product of a Catholic and a Protestant  (Catholic mother, Protestant father in my case).   Now, this certainly had some advantages, and my parents focused more on the beliefs they held in common rather than their differences, but still for much of my life I struggled with how to come to terms with the sometimes clashing differences in their two “religions.”

Having no real answers by the time I went off to college (still in Midwest Iowa), my world got a little bigger and I began to meet people from other cultures and truly from other religions– not just Christianity in its various denominations– and I began to really wonder, how do we all fit together?

Wanting to carry on the family tradition, I suppose, (well and also because he’s pretty great and I happened to fall in love with him), I entered into a “mixed marriage” of my own.  Though, by this time we both had seen a larger world and, like my parents, chose to focus on the beliefs we held in common rather than those that may divide us.   And that is a great recipe for success that still works for us today, by the way.  But I still wondered how do we all fit?  How can God be in “my” church and in “yours”…and also in the mosques and synagogues? 

I’m reluctant to admit that even after reading about Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) taking her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia, I still was troubled with thoughts of her having a Guru after being raised Christian.   Did you have to leave Christianity to find God? Would I have to leave the Church? Was God Christian? Was He/She NOT Christian? The thoughts were stifling. This book was the first time the door opened enough for me to get to see beyond the differences within our Christian denominations  into the meat of the differences between these three Abrahamic religions–Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

But more importantly, it showed me what these three religions had in common.

And suddenly, the “mixed” marriage I’d been born into, and the increasingly “mixed” world I’d continued to explore, suddenly seemed less “mixed” and more “blended.”

I’ll admit that it was surprising and a bit troubling to me initially that it was the Christian woman who found herself struggling the most with her faith as their “Faith Club” continued to meet and question each other.  It was the Muslim woman and the Jewish woman who grew deeper in their faiths from the beginning.  Eventually this became more understandable for me as I realized that growing up in a predominantly Christian culture, it is difficult to really face challenges of our faith– especially when we spend so much time arguing with our own Christian brethren.  In reality, I’ve come to understand that the greatest challenge is never to point out what is true in my faith and untrue in yours, but rather to ask, how does the Truth that I know reveal itself in the Truth that you know?

But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

Yes, it was these three courageous women –a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew–and their willingness to share their story and their struggles, that began to help me see this.

But it really wasn’t until I read the book I share tomorrow that I was able to see how holding opposites together is a sure way to reveal the Absolute Truth of God.

Stay tuned!