In our high school musical I played Chavaleh in Fiddler on the Roof, the spitfire redhead who dreamily sings "Matchmaker" with her sisters, and in the end blatantly defies her Jewish tradition to elope with a Russian Gentile. She is disowned by her father and outcast from her family and community. Through the entire show there is the repeated refrain, "Tradition! Tradition! Tradition!" In fact this word makes up the entire chorus of a song.
I remember how powerfully I could identify with the storyline of Fiddler on the Roof, as if it was all just stored memory, and with Chavaleh; how perfectly natural it felt for this woman to follow her heart, rather than to shut it down, even if in the end she might be wrong.
At the time I had no idea how significant to my experience this musical would become, as I too would marry for love, outside of my faith, (in my case, at the time, Mormon) very much defying my own tradition. There are two very important rites that must be completed as a Mormon woman to enter into the highest kingdom of God: you must be baptized, and you must enter into marriage with another Mormon man who is 'worthy' to take you into the Mormon temple to be sealed for all time and eternity. These rites are such an integral part of the belief-system, that by an early age children understand that they are expected of them.
So, when I grew up and married a non-Mormon outside of the temple, in a godless wedding, on top of it, I defied my roots and surprised everyone, even myself. Having such a personal exodus foreshadowed by playing the character of Chavaleh has become a kind of cosmic joke for me.
I was never rebellious, in fact, I was always a church goer, determined to err on the side of caution. I could have never imagined defying tradition, but when the situation arose, there was never much question of which way to travel, that is, when I could finally hear my own heart over all of the voices--some near and dear to me-- warning me, and pleading with me not to throw away my salvation.
Overriding the fear at that time was a deeper knowledge that I did not, and could never believe in a God that would only gather part of his flock back to him. I couldn't believe that God would be partial to a few, nor that he would be hampered in his love and acceptance of all his children, getting caught up in the details of our very individual human experience and circumstance.
Many years later there was the exodus from my marriage, and another story of losing my religion in the name of love. I have a lot of admiration for my ex-husband, who with me, was able to let go of the idea that our relationship should last forever, when we both knew that we were slowly killing each other. In the end it felt natural to let it end, because both of us knew, even if just on an intuitive level, that we were loving each other more by letting the other go, than by forcing us to stay together out of fear. I see that relationships never end, however, they merely transform--what they transform into, is up to us.
Day by day, he and I are making something better for our family, by changing the form, by letting go of what life should look like. We get over things at lightening speed now, knowing it isn't worth it to harbor resentment. When people see us together, they are surprised to find out that we are divorced. We find people complimenting us, in a sort of puzzled way. Our daughter's school teacher told us how wonderfully she thought we had dealt with our divorce. I remember my ex and I looked at each other, and I believe we experienced a sense of pride. I responded to her that our intention in getting divorced was never to tear our family apart, but to build something better for all of us.
So, I lost another religion, along with a lot of fear.
I realize that early on, the desires of my heart have been stronger than my fears. I am reassured by this as I continue my path. The way I walk through this world may look at times subversive and iconoclastic to some, but there is a deeper truth that I can't ignore, and it knows no bounds. It eases and heals, rather than destroys and labels. I realize that I have always been heeding its call. It becomes easier and easier as I see what amazing possibilities can appear in the place of fearful ones. I am continually losing my religions to find heart, and it always feels better.
Of course, for some letting go of their religions might be staying married, or finding a religion with, say, the Mormons. I am not advocating leaving your cherished religions, or marriages. I am more interested in the patterns that appear in our lives to help us to become free to listen to our hearts. Every way is unique. It has to be. Only you can know what path is closest to your heart, whether it is living fully, or is shutting it down. No one knows but you.
When I was having inklings that divorce might be the best for us, I had the opportunity to ask Byron Katie how one knew when it was time to let go of a relationship. Her response was that if you haven't left it, it isn't time. Her response baffled me a bit, but I see how profound it was. You leave when you are ready, because no fear is in the way anymore, so, it just happens. You don't even have to do anything. You find it happening.
Now when I look back, I realize leaving my religion with the Mormons in an official way, and dissolving my marriage were largely effortless, because there was no longer a part of me that worried that bad things would happen because of my choices in this life, or heaven forbid, in the afterlife. I knew that the truth of my being was that everything would be okay no matter what, even if it didn't look okay to others, or even to myself at moments. The next steps became natural.
I see now that I was born to walk in this world to face my fears, and then to face them again, until they become as meaningless and incongruent as threats made by a loving God.
If there ever comes a time when I go against the whispers of my heart, I know it will be a time when I will cease to exist. There will be no more meaning, no more reason to go on.
There is nothing that can keep me from following my heart's path. I see that now, just as I see that it has always been that way throughout my life, even when my path was heart-breaking to those around me, which wasn't easy. I see that it was their fear masquerading as love that I would lose my salvation, or in the case of my marriage, that our family and my children would fall apart at the seams.
I am learning that nothing is what it seems, that everything I have feared, when faced, has never been anything more than a dark shadow easily cast away by moving into the light. It is amazing who comes out of the woodwork to love you when you are sure that you will be burned at the stake. You leave the people who would burn you behind, or in some cases you bring them along, into another kind of world where love rules.
I recently read a story about a black couple being harassed by threatening phone calls from a leader of a local KKK chapter where they lived. The couple found out who it was and learned he was in a wheelchair. During one of the menacing calls, the black man asked the KKK leader if he might want a ride somewhere sometime. There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then, an affirmative response. This act of making peace instead of war changed the nature of their relationship. They became friends. So, you never know who you can bring along, just by loving them anyway, by having compassion and a little extra understanding. There is something magical about loving another no matter what. Suspending judgement and letting go of our victim stories change everything.
Some religions I am still losing, like that my house should be perfectly clean, that my body should be perfect, that my kids should keep their rooms clean, that my kids should be well-behaved all the time, and on time for school, that I should be a supermom, and a superwoman, and have a super garden. There is a lot of pain from holding these religions, but I do see that I have made room for peace within some of them, and that the peaceful space holds a lot more love and acceptance, and compassion for others. I also see that the more painful the religion I hold, the more that it speaks to deeper aspects of myself wanting to heal--wanting to let go and let love in.
So, what patterns have always been there for you? Can you recognize how they have organized aspects of your life into gentle attempts to lead you out of your struggles? Any foreshadowing?
What religions have given way for you, allowing you to nestle into your heartspace, to hear the softness of your own heart singing a sweet and ancient song of the way back to your gentle and loving truth?
There is one guarantee, that listening to this song will never yield more pain and suffering, at least that you'll ever look at in the same way. It will open you, it will hold you, and always, it will give you a feeling of coming home.