Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

My Ecumenical and Interfaith Journey

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

My Ecumenical and Interfaith Journey

Article excerpt

My journey into an ecumenical and interfaith perspective began very early. Its roots lie in having grown up in a religiously plural family: Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Russian Orthodox, Quaker, and Jewish. My mother was a Roman Catholic of English, Austro-Hungarian, and Mexican backgrounds. She was a deeply committed person of faith who prayed regularly, read serious religious books, and attended mass daily, but she had no use for what she regarded as "ignorant superstition." Priests and nuns who said you were in danger of hell for eating a morsel of meat ten minutes into a Friday were dismissed with a wave of her hand. For her, Roman Catholicism was a serious intellectual tradition, not to be confused with guilt trips on petty matters. She gave her three daughters a firm but open-minded grounding in what it meant to be a Catholic.

My father was an Episcopalian of English-American roots, whose family came to Virginia in the late sixteenth century. His family had a pew in Christ Church Georgetown (Washington, DC) for generations. My father seemed to think of going to church as more of a social responsibility to his community than a religious experience, which he observed mainly on high holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. On those occasions my mother sometimes allowed me to accompany him to church, something not typical of "mixed marriages" in the 1930's and '40's. Although I mostly attended mass with my mother at Trinity Church, run by the Jesuits of Georgetown University, I came to think of the Episcopal Christ Church as part of my extended family.

My father's Aunt Sophie, a grand old lady in her nineties when I was growing up, had married a Russian diplomat in the 1870's and had lived in St. Petersburg and various European capitals during her husband's career. She spoke fluent Russian and French and wrote novels and folk stories from Russian history. Although Anglican by upbringing, through her marriage she had come to identify with her husband's Russian Orthodox tradition. My older sister studied French with our great aunt. Through her she came to cultivate an attraction to the Russian Orthodox Church and sought out a church of this tradition when she went to live in San Francisco in the 1950's. When I visited her I went with her to a small, lively Russian Orthodox church in that city. Having lived in Athens from 1947 to 1949 when my father was head engineer for reconstructing the damage done to the railroads and the Corinth Canal by the Nazis, I was familiar with the Greek Orthodox worship services in that country. Russian Orthodoxy felt to me like another branch of my extended family.

In my teens, after my father's death in 1949, my mother moved the family to La Jolla, returning to her roots in southern California. There I became very attached to several of her close friends from her girlhood. We called these friends "aunts," although they were not blood relatives. Several of these "aunts" had joined the Quaker meeting, which they saw as expressing their peace and justice inclinations better than the upper-class Anglican Church of their background. I was a student of art in those days, and these "aunts" got me involved teaching art classes to Mexican children at the Quaker meeting house. I became drawn to attending the silent Quaker meetings with them on Sunday, after attending Catholic mass with my mother. I found the Catholic mass and the Quaker meeting deeply compatible. I remember thinking that they were like the "outside" and the "inside" of the same reality. Both represented a collective experience of the holy, the mass in externalized sacramental form and the Quaker meeting in an interior contemplative form, devoid of outward words or symbols. It felt to me that the two enriched one another.

The fifth tradition of my extended family was Jewish. My Uncle David, married to my father's sister, was from a New York Jewish family. In the 1930's he and his two brothers were sympathizers with socialism and workers' rights. …

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