I attended my goddaughters’ baptisms while I was still mid-conversion. Though unable to say the whole of the Our Father prayer during their ceremonies, I stood beside their parents and promised to help guide them spiritually.
I don’t have qualms about doing that, though they’re Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Catholic, and I’m a Reform Jew. This is the epitome of interfaith life: promising to nurture those you love while they travel down paths that you opted not to take. I’m honored that my cousins and best friend have entrusted me with helping their kids along, the differences in our creeds aside.
“What qualifies each of you to fulfill your duties as godparents?” a minister asked.
“Three religion degrees,” I said. The girls can come to me with any question; I’ll offer them honest and nuanced answers.
But more than my scholastic background, I’m fortunate to have the example of my own godmother, my Aunt Linda, to guide me. She sent me a missal and a rosary to commemorate my first communion and wished me congratulations for my confirmation. She also began sending me Hanukkah cards when I told her that I was converting, and the day of my immersion in the mikveh, she bought me the Shabbat candlesticks I use today.
There’s a lesson in this family dance of ours about religion and identity that I hope my goddaughters will learn: though religion is communal, belief itself is a deeply personal endeavor. My aunt found the most fulfillment not far outside of the Catholic community she was raised in; I found mine in our family’s hidden past. There was no cajoling or guilt on either side of our relationship in response to these fluctuations. She honored the changes in my worldview, just as I learned from the evolutions in her own.
I can name things in the traditions where my goddaughters are beginning that I find beautiful, and hopeful, and promising. We can talk about sacramentality if they want to, or about the necessity of tikkun olam, that pull toward world wholeness that you find across traditions. The thrill of participating in rituals that are centuries, even millennia, old is worth working toward. It waits for me in Shabbat practices; I can guide them toward it in communion, in liturgy, and in prayer. We can awe together, or be witness to each other’s awe, or wait for it, as they wish.
But I also know to anticipate the moments where doubt creeps in: the consequences of reading texts literally and wondering after the probability of miracles and biblical disasters. Resultant damage to conviction. The adamant nature of doctrine, which sometimes seems to stand against human need.The wild and wondrous enigma of Hashem, however named.
I, too, have wondered about the spaces where religious practice seems to run aground with logic, and if they ever need to hear that ferocious questioning can, itself, be a spiritual act, I’m there. Such moments ache as they arrive, and I’ll be there to sympathize if, or when, the girls encounter them. I can walk them through generations of proposed answers. I can, as those who nurtured me were thoughtful enough to do, refuse to force my own answers upon them.
That I may be so for them: My godmother’s last interactions with me were all marked by openness and replete with moments of spiritual exchange. Though very sick at the time, she accompanied me to Friday night services before my 30th birthday. She took in the Hebrew and found comfort in the Mi Sheberakh, one of the central Jewish prayers for those who are ill or recovering. Back at home, she sat down with “Jesus Calling”; I lit candles to welcome Shabbat. We found our peace.
Every discussion related to God and religion that I ever had with my godmother was warm, mutually inquisitive, and wholly non-judgmental. She trusted my spiritual instincts in a way that is its own kind of miracle across traditions. If I can offer, to my goddaughters, the same kind of gentle support that she offered to me, I’ll count the whole endeavor a success.