Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Unequally Yoked, pt. 1
It will come as a surprise to many readers of this blog, but my daughter Jo had two baby welcomes performed by two different faith communities.
The first took place in my in-laws Catholic church, a mammoth, auditorium-style Roman Catholic parish awash in pink marble and quietly flowing fountains. Both branches of the family tree were well represented. Jo was radiant in her white satin gown; I have a whole shoebox of pictures of her in the arms of relatives with beaming smiles. Afterwards, we held a small gathering at my mother's house and ate a white-iced cake that I remember as being on the dry side.
The second was held at the small, woody Zendo my husband called his spiritual center. No family members were present. No pictures were taken. And after the hushed whispers and the ringing of the bells, we drove home alone. To this day, my memories of the place are limited to smells: the incense, the slightly musty, damp air, the overgrown green forest edging the property.I didn't even write about the event in my daughter's baby book.
When Mr. Blandings and I met, he was fully agnostic in his beliefs regarding spirituality of any kind. Twelve years of Catholic schooling had convinced him that there was purpose in life. His own sense of logic told him that a Creator was involved. And this was exactly as far as he was willing to go when it came to matters of faith. By the time we married, however, he had found a philosophy that matched his personal desire to draw close to the divine: Rinzai Zen Buddhism.
Go ahead and tell me that I should have run far, far away from the man I now call my husband. Had I been more than a marginal Christian myself, I would have. But despite my long-standing career as a Sunday School teacher in the Episcopal church just off campus, I had no more knowledge of Biblical teaching than anyone else who sat through years and years of church services without truly understanding the meaning behind it all. I was Christian in name, I was Christian in leaning, but I was pretty sure that Christianity had nothing to do with actually living my life. And that life, of course, included marriage.
What did it matter if my beloved spent his Sunday mornings sitting, chanting, working and walking through various forms of meditation? How different was it, really, than my own acts of worship? What did it matter if he called his god by one name and I used another for my own? Who was I to say what he should believe?
Fast forward a year and a half and the playing field had changed. Giving birth to my daughter rocked my world in more ways than one--and beginning the process of defining my own faith was just a starting point. The importance of raising a child within the context of a shared focus on Christ was beating at the cage of my heart.
And then, of course, came the horrible, kick-to-the-gut day when I realized that the man I married was going to hell. If this was true, I found myself crying out, what was the point of our life together?
You can't imagine the sad, tired brokenness that followed me through each and every day (or maybe, if you're walking the same path, you can). The shame. The fear. The guilt. The defeat. I can remember closing my Bible in tears one night, and praying out loud, "God, please don't show me anymore. Because every step closer to you is a step farther away from my husband."
God's Word was, that same husband said later, like a rabbit hole that I was eyeing, wondering how deeply I ought to dive in. I maintained the status quo of normalcy in my day to day life, but inside, I was a mess. The house divided? That was me. One piece longing for that deep relationship with Christ, the other in agony because I was so going somewhere that my adoring husband could or would not.
People around me prayed. A handful told me about it, but mainly, I know because I felt it. The most vocal were my grandmother (who had no idea what a Buddhist was, but was pretty darn sure she didn't want her great-grandbaby raised as one) and my cousin, who to this day probably doesn't know the lengths I went to to downplay the role that Buddhism was playing in my husband's life. During one of her visits, I remember her asking about the small altar in our bedroom, where my husband practiced zazen (silent meditation). I can still feel the humiliated tightness in my throat as I laid out the process to her. Rather than offering me pity or talking down to me, she offered to pray for us. I believed even then that she was someone who didn't say such things flippantly. (Incidentally, it was this kind of strident, firm faith that I was finding so attractive after years of surface-level religion that never penetrated my heart.)
As for me, I was having a hard time praying. I vacillated between anger ("Why doesn't he get it?"), frustration ("Can't he see what he's doing to his family?"), self-pity ("I can't do this alone. Why did God give me this baby?"), hurt ("God, why are you allowing this?") and resignation ("This is just the way my life was meant to be."). For short periods, I would pray over my husband intensely. I would try to engage his mind in the examination of the two faiths, and prayed that he would reason his way into a faith in Christ. I would introduce him to other Christians, and hope he'd make friends who would lead him back on to the path. Nothing clicked
At other times, I would just try and be thankful for what I had. He was, after all, a great husband. A good provider. An incredible father. A generous, giving person. He surely wasn't as bad as some husbands, even some Christian husbands I knew of. Why was I so hung up on the one detail he didn't have--when clearly, I had so much?
But, of course, it all came back to this: we were unequally yoked. Our worldviews were completely different. Neither one of us could ever see eye to eye on the key points in life simply because we were coming at them with an entirely different purpose. And truthfully, if things didn't change, I felt in my heart of hearts that our marriage was doomed.