The Personalist Project

Fathers Day is coming up. I've got fatherhood on my mind, anyway, being still in the throes of reading Kristin Lavransdatter, which I’ve belatedly realized is all about fathers. So here is my tribute to mine.

When I was six and we had left all our material possessions behind (in front of our apartment building in Brooklyn, with a sign proclaiming FREE JUNK)—when we went on the road in search of truth, meaning to join an ashram that was supposed to be in Vermont, but turned out to have moved to India—well, to make a long, long story short, we ended up in a house run by evangelical Christians and were invited to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.

As my father hesitated on the brink of doing just that, I brought him a picture I’d drawn of the empty tomb with the stone rolled away, festooned with the words HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN in magic marker. This pushed my father over the brink, and our whole family (at the time, two parents and two daughters) became Christians.

Here we are at the Community Bible Chapel.

Some six years later, I was on the brink of becoming Catholic. My mother and my (now three) little sisters had taken the plunge a year earlier, but my father and I had held back. My reasoning was that, having reached the ripe old age of going-on-13, I had already become a Buddhist (as much as a little kid whose parents had sort of embraced a westernized Buddhism could be called one), had moved to Jerusalem and back in search of our family’s Jewish roots, had moved to Vermont in search of Indian wisdom, had briefly joined a quasi-Christian cult, and was now a non-denominational Evangelical Christian. 

I had followed my parents to plenty of odd places already, and was now, I figured, too grown up to switch religions yet again just because my mommy and daddy (actually "Ima" and "Abba," since we'd lived in Israel as toddlers) were heading in that direction.

I’ve always told this story as if it was kind of pompous and silly of me, in my almost-13-year-old wisdom, to think I knew better—but now I think it was a a natural response and also a good thing. I was going to make it my own or not do it at all. So I didn't do it at all. At least, not yet.

Abba and I spent the next year hesitating, for our own reasons. His stumbling-block was the whole history of the Church and the Jews.

His resistance began to break down one day when, as he was looking out over a cemetery, the words came into his mind, “Let the dead bury their dead, and come follow me.” He came home annoyed, yelling, “OK, who’s been praying for me?” That was the beginning of the end.

As for me, my mother had spent the year catechizing us, though never pressuring me to join the Church (which, now that I'm a mother, seems to me like miraculous restraint on her part). In fact, she did such a thorough job that even our modernist priest ( it was the height of the silly season, the late 1970s) waived the religious ed requirement for all her children.  And she was so convincing that I really had no doubt that it was all true by the end of the year. 

In any case, when Abba announced that he was going to become Catholic, I had a sudden and very prosaic revelation of my own. It went something like this: “You know you believe all this stuff anyway. Why don’t you stop giving your mother a hard time?”

I thought of how my father had had the integrity to wait in the first place, for a real reason--and then also to go ahead when it was time to go ahead. It became clear to me that my own reasons had maybe made sense a year ago but were obsolete now.

On the Feast of the Assumption Abba and I joined the Catholic Church.  God had used my drawing of the empty tomb to push him into Christianity, and now He had used my father’s decision to draw me all the way in.

We had come full circle.

                                                              *     *     *     *     *

You can read the whole wild story--or a lot more of it--in Honey from the Rock: Sixteen Jews find the sweetness of Christ, which includes a chapter by my mother, Marilyn Prever, called "Sh'ma Yisrael to Hare Krishna to Ave Maria."

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