Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
I often joke that I married a Southern Baptist, but one day I woke up with a Jewish husband. That’s what happens when your spouse converts.
One of the primary things that brought two people with such different backgrounds together was our shared spiritual, rather than religious, beliefs. I’m a New York Jew with a Czech mother and a Russian father who both spent a fair amount of their lives in Israel. Long before my husband decided to become a Jew, he and I embarked on a spiritual path together.
Not long after we met we began to explore metaphysical book shops and to discuss mysticism and to join groups with a mystical focus. It wasn't until later when we had children that we both began to explore Judaism as a spiritual path. We had learned enough about Judaism's mystical tradition, Kabbalah, to know it encompassed most if not all of what we had learned outside of Judaism and we both felt at home within the Jewish tradition. For me, taking the Jewish spiritual path felt like coming home. For Ron, it was like finding a spiritual home. For both of us being able to walk this path together became an enormous part of our life together and later he decided to convert to Judaism.
A year and a half ago, however, Ron suffered a series of losses. His father died. He lost two jobs in a row and we got into debt. On top of everything else, our dog died, too. Ron began to drift off both the spiritual and religious path, moving away from the place I found myself walking, which still involved metaphysics and general spirituality as well as Judaism. As he lost faith he also stopped believing in all the spiritual and metaphysical principles he had once known to be true and in which I still strongly believed.
Not only had my relationship with Ron been based on our shared beliefs and interests, but my work writing and speaking are focused on spirituality and human potential and personal growth from a Jewish perspective. I live and breathe and work with my spiritual path every day. The farther I walked towards my personal and professional goals, the more I strengthened my faith and belief and that put greater distance between my husband and me.
I was speaking to a non-Jewish friend who told me her husband had never shared her spiritual beliefs or interests, and it posed no problems in her relationship. "But my relationship was founded on those beliefs and interests," I replied. "The fact that my husband no longer shares them with me shakes the very foundation of our marriage," I complained.
I began thinking about how we might resolve the issue and move forward with our relationship. After 20 years of marriage and two children together, I didn’t want to have to choose a path that meant I walked forward into the future alone.
Then it occurred to me that our problem actually resembled that of many interfaith couples and marriages. They, too, struggle with inherent differences in religious belief and spiritual practices. They often walk different paths when it comes to these areas of their lives, but to be in relationship--to be in a marriage--they have to find a way to walk together not only down other paths but sometimes down the spiritual and religious path as well. This wasn't something we'd had to work on in the past, even when we were technically an interfaith relationship.
Most relationships begin with some foundation of shared interests. For most people these have nothing at all to do with religious belief, or most interfaith relationships would be doomed before they began. On reflection I realized that most relationships are based on something else that draws the two individuals together. What is that something else? Maybe initially it's a basic attraction. It grows into love.
So, how do two people with different religious or spiritual beliefs or even just from different religious backgrounds find a way to be together? They remember they love each other. And they agree to disagree. This doesn't mean that they argue over their differences of opinion and belief. It simply means that they accept that they have differing opinions, differing beliefs, different opinions. And they try to share in each other's spiritual traditions if at all possible … but no one tries to convert anyone else.
I pondered whether this approach could work for two people who were once on the same religious and spiritual path but had decided to each take a different fork in the road. Could my husband and I learn something from interfaith couples and find a way to coexist religiously and spiritually in our marriage despite the fact that so much of our marriage rested on sharing this aspect of our life? I decided that it worth a try. We will have to find ways to be together without that previous shared interest. We will find new things in common and rediscover the other interests and values that brought us together initially.
I am going to have to learn to participate in events alone and to work out compromises with Ron about which things he'll go to with me just to be supportive, even though he's not interested anymore. I know I’ll struggle with attending a service, taking a class or joining a group by myself. I'll also remind myself that it’s healthy to have friends and to make friends who share your interests. That’s another thing I can learn from interfaith couples, who make a concerted effort to join like-minded groups and to make new friends who can support them. Plus, it's healthy to find new interests with your mate and to make new friends on your own.
You just never know what happens on the spiritual path. People wander off it, get lost, and find their way back. Sometimes their detour turns out to be short, and sometimes it is long. Sometimes they get lost and never return. Sometimes they need to get lost in order to find their way back. Maybe my husband will find his way back onto the path I'm on at some point. Maybe he'll be waiting up ahead. Maybe for someone else whose husband or wife has totally different religious beliefs or prefers to walk on a totally different spiritual path they can find a middle path, something that incorporates a little of each tradition they enjoy, or maybe they can find a totally new one they can walk together. Maybe my husband and I can do something similar. You just never know.
Spirituality is like that. It requires faith. And with enough faith, sometimes we find ourselves the recipients of an act of grace. The path becomes clear once again. We receive direction when we are lost. We find ourselves walking together with someone we love.