When Zayde said he was off to Murphy’s, one was never sure whether he was going to pray at the makeshift synagogue upstairs, or to have a beer at the tavern below.
I’m guilty of hit-and-run spirituality. My ultimate disappointment with a path and a teacher I had dearly loved for years left me unable to commit to, trust, or believe in anything whole-heartedly ever again. Yet, I can’t stay away from spirit, trying out different practices, gathering my lotus petals while I may. Call it Peter Pantheism.
If my grandfather were alive today, he’d understand. Zayde (Yiddish for Grandpa) was a devout agnostic, never quite sure of God’s existence, while behaving as the observant Jew he was raised to be…just in case. I like to think I’m continuing a family tradition.
My Zayde found fault with every Orthodox shul (synagogue) he ever attended, often quitting in a huff to find a new one. Soon he ran out of temples in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn to get mad at, so he joined a group of men who rented a room for prayer services above Murphy’s Bar. They called it “Murphy’s Shul.” When Zayde said he was off to Murphy’s, one was never sure whether he was going to daven (pray) upstairs or to have a beer at the tavern below.
As a small child, I occasionally accompanied my grandfather to the conservative synagogue he eventually joined. I loved being with him, but without a formal Jewish education, it just never “took.” In adulthood, after trying and failing to develop more interest in Judaism, I discovered an affinity for the East, ardently following a guru for eight years. Bereft after leaving that path, I took a brief time-out from all things spiritual, then resumed seeking, albeit with extreme caution.
These days, I visit yoga centers and ashrams—often the Hindu equivalent of Murphy’s—to chant, meditate, and practice hatha yoga. I’ll dance in the aisles at new-age singles’ synagogue services; attend interfaith gatherings and Catholic masses; and wonder what my ancestors would say. I studied Reiki. I watch Oprah’s “Remembering Your Spirit” and “Touched by an Angel,” feel manipulated, and cry anyway. I’ve visited psychics, gurus and teachers of all stripes: divine mothers, big daddies, charlatans, angels. At times I spout affirmations, and at other times repeat the mantra, “It’s all a crock, it’s all a crock.”
Like it or not—often it’s “not”—I’m a student of the mystical. Like my Zayde before me, I can find fault with nearly every teacher and philosophy I encounter. But I know that when I least expect it, I’ll be moved to tears, purged of doubt, filled with joy, and learn exactly what I need to know precisely when I need to know it. That—as well as retaining a sense of humor—is what keeps me coming back.
Not that really I believe in any of this stuff.