My mother died suddenly from a heart attack, and I can’t rid myself of the anger I feel toward her for that. I love her deeply, and I feel guilty about the anger. And I’m fearful that I’m driving her away. My husband just tells me to get over it, but I can’t. What can I do with these horrible feelings?
The death of a parent can be traumatic, and sudden death all the more so. Your feelings are natural, and “love is stronger than death” (Song of Songs 8:6), so don’t worry about driving your mother away.
I suggest you write your mom a letter.* Do this slowly, with attention, and by hand rather than on a computer. Tell her how you feel, and then move on to thanking her for all she did for you during your lifetime. Be specific, and start as far back as you can remember. Thank her as well for dealing with all the troubles you caused her: the times you inconvenienced her, worried her, hurt her. Give thanks for all she did and ask forgiveness for all you did. As you write your letter, you will feel her love embracing you. It may take time, but that’s the way of grief. I’m not going to tell you time heals, but it does ripen, and a ripened grief often yields a greater capacity for love. Place the completed letter by her grave or urn, or keep it with something of your mother’s that she treasured.
* This idea is adapted from Naikan (innerseeing) practice. For more information, visit the ToDo Institute at www.todoinstitute.org/. Tell them Rami sent you.
I’m moving into my own apartment and furnishing it with stuff I buy at garage sales and junk shops. The pieces I buy have dings, divots, and cracks. My father wants to refinish everything, but I think that old stuff has more soul than new stuff. Can that be, or is this, as my father insists, just my imagination?
Lived-in things have soul — character, mystery — and living with them can deepen our souls as well. Look into the Japanese aesthetic called wabi-sabi. First articulated by Murata Shuko, a fifteenth-century Zen monk and tea master, wabi-sabi sees beauty in imperfection: a worn table top, a cracked vase, a chair seat rubbed down with use. Living with these things honors them and gives them meaning and purpose. They “repay” us with a sense of value that the new and shiny simply lack.
I know money can’t buy me happiness, but being broke is robbing me of it. Any suggestions as to how to weather this financial storm?
I can’t offer financial advice, but I -suspect that a lot of your expenditures went to activities that masked an unhappiness that was already present. When we can’t distract ourselves from ourselves, we have to deal with the anxiety at the root of self. I would suggest two things: meditation and friends. Practices such as Vipassana or Insight meditation can help us navigate reality without getting trapped in the drama that the ego spins about reality. And being part of a friendship network can pull us out of ourselves through service to others. Create a small circle of friends who pledge to help one another during illness, job loss, emergencies, or just when you need someone to watch the kids or walk the dog. I’m not saying you should pool finances, but if you pool compassion you may come out of this happier than when you went in.
I’m considering making a home -altar. What do you think about them?
Home altars can be powerful reminders of the presence of God and the challenge of godliness: living with justice, compassion, humility, and wisdom. You might also consider the Jewish practice of attaching mezuzot (small cases containing the Bible passages Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21) to the doorposts of your home, inside and out. Mezuzot remind you to use the space you are entering lovingly and honorably. While Jews are encouraged to use traditional mezuzot, you can create your own and fill them with whatever sacred texts you deem meaningful. The more God-filled our homes, the more godly our actions when we leave them.
My fiancée has joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and I’m glad he’s seeking help, but I’m afraid AA is like a cult. Should I worry about this?
No. Cults seek to control you; AA and other twelve-step programs seek to -liberate you. If your fiancée works the Steps diligently, he will become kinder, more loving, and a better partner. You might want to look into Al-Anon, a twelve-step program for people living with addicts. Understanding the Twelve Steps from the inside can help you support your fiancée more effectively, as well as give you a set of tools for your own spiritual growth.
As a gay Christian, I’m hurt by fellow Christians who believe God hates my partner and me. What do they fear?
I won’t pretend to know the hearts of people whose faith leaves them with clenched fists rather than open arms, but I suspect that what they fear is love. Deep, transformative, holy love is, as Jesus lived it, without boundaries. Such love dissolves the barriers between “us” and “them,” and people who cannot live without barriers cannot surrender to this love. It isn’t you they reject as much as love they fear.
I’m a fairly secular American-born Muslim, recently married to a Hindu woman from India. My mother loves my wife, but when she sees the Ganesha in our living room, she will have a fit. I suggested we put it away when my mother visits, but my wife was very hurt by the idea so I dropped it. Am I right, though? And if not, what should we do?
You are not right, and your willingness to hide your wife’s religion can only make her wonder what else about her you are willing to sacrifice. Apologize to your wife, and explain to your mom that Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, represents divine creativity and the capacity to remove obstacles. By placing Ganesha in a place of honor, you are inviting creativity and peace into your home. Your mother may not accept that, but at least you are being respectful to both your mother and your wife. Whatever you do, don’t mess with Ganesha — the pain it will cause your wife will haunt what may prove to be a very short marriage.
My neighbor is a devout Southern Baptist. We talk about religion a lot, but when I challenge his beliefs, he says I am challenging his sincerity, as if sincerity equals truth. Is he right about this?
No. Sincerity only reflects the level of one’s conviction, not the truthfulness of one’s belief. You can be as sincere about beliefs that are hate-filled and violent as you can about beliefs that are loving and peaceful. When assessing the truth of a belief, look beyond the sincerity of the believer to the ethical values and quality of life the belief engenders.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, poet, and teacher. His most recent book is The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness. To send him questions, email [email protected]. His online column is at SpiritualityHealth.com/RabbiRami.