Tuesday, October 26, 2021

So many things from my mother leading to my creative life and my spiritual life


That's my red-haired mother as a baby, born in the spring of 1916 in Minnesota.  At times lately I feel as if I am, in some odd way, her mother.  

When my mother was about the age I am, she strongly considered converting to Judaism.  She had long felt a kinship with Jewish people and felt that there must have been someone who was Jewish on her father's side of the family.  While our family was attending an Episcopal Church during my growing up years, she introduced me to the works numerous writers and artists who were Jewish.  I remember that she went to hear Isaac Bashevis Singer speak at a local synagogue when I was in high school.

In the early 1980s, she met people from the Jewish community in Mendocino County and subscribed to their newsletter and felt welcomed and at home in that small community.  When my father protested, she celebrated all the Jewish holidays semi-secretly, far below my father's radar.   My father did not know enough about Judaism to know that she was celebrating the holidays right in front of him.  

My mandala series was inspired by my mother's mandala series which she created when she was about the same age I am.  Her series included mandalas for Jewish holidays.

One of the books she passed on to me when I was in high school was The Chosen, by Chaim Potok.  This morning, following links as I do, I discovered an extraordinary series of drawings and paintings by Jeremy Kagan, the man who directed the film version of The Chosen.  They remind me of Jacob Lawrence's series:  Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis, which I was fortunate to be able to see when they were shown here in Bellingham.  They also make me think of William Blake.  I find Jeremy Kagan's work to be deeply engaging, despite the fact that I am not a religious person.  

My mother's parents were married in a Unitarian Church in Boston.  Her mother's father was a Theosophist.  Some of her great grandparents were Roman Catholic and the others Protestant.  I recall my mother saying that her father, a World War I veteran, had a well-worn copy of the Bhagavad Gita, possibly belonging to my grandmother who died before he did and whose father was the Theosophist. My only nephew's grandfather is Jewish.  His grandmother is a Roman Catholic convert to Judaism.  My father's father's side is entirely Lutheran and then there is the mysterious great great grandfather on my father's mother's side whose ancestry and religion are unknown.  In my generation and the younger generations, there is a little of everything, atheism included!

It will take me some time to look through all sets of drawings and paintings by Jeremy Kagan.  I'm astonished to find that his third set are what I would call mandalas.  A glimpse from his first set:


and then this.

Feeling gratitude this morning to my complicated mother, an artist, writer,  creator of delicious meals, pattern knitter, and spiritual seeker, among other things, who would be 105 years old this year.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

How fortunate you are. I am no longer bound by any religion. I nurture the spiritual part of me as well as the physical. It seems to be working rather well. :)

Pixie said...

My mother would have been 97 this year if she was still alive. She was an amazing knitter and when I was growing up I thought all mothers could knit like mum did. I was wrong.

I'm glad you're mom was able to express herself in her artwork and knitting.

robin andrea said...

It's so interesting to read of your mother's interest in Judaism. I was born Jewish, but always considered myself an atheist. I have sometimes called myself a Jewish-Atheist-Buddhist. I am a believer in nothing but the experience of being human. I have wondered what it might be like to feel drawn to a religion, a serious belief in something. Your mother's art is so beautiful.

Tara said...

Such a remarkable connection with your mother. She was born about the same time as my paternal grandmother. She was a bohemian spirit and nurtured my creativity.

I've never heard of Kagan before, so thank you for that. I watched the Vimeo pieces. Prolific!

Joared said...

Interesting that your mother felt that connection to Judaism. Perhaps genealogy research might reveal if there was any such connection in other generations. Of course, during times of oppression, as in WWII, I've read some Jewish people saved their lives by many means disassociating themselves from being Jewish and may have continued to live that way.

I long ago have been troubled by organized religion -- so many engage in violence but profess love of others. I came to think of spirituality as a very personal and private experience -- one that allows me to have my views and does not include a need or requirement to convert others to my view.

ellen abbott said...

I too was raised Episcopalian but rejected christian theology in my early 20s. I met and married a jewish man and converted to Judaism at 27 before our first child was born. but my religious evolution didn't stop there. I read a lot about the origins and evolution of religion, read Jung, read a lot of Theosophy writings, and of course New Age stuff, Taoism, Buddhism, Native American thought, and my own experiences with acid and psilocybin. Eventually I rejected all organized religion which has done more evil in the world than anything else. I don't consider myself atheist because I do hold a concept of "the all that is".

37paddington said...

It is a gift to be raised by a mother who is a seeker. She made the world open to you.

Beth said...

This was fascinating to read. I don't think it matters what religion or spiritual path people follow so long as they are committed to growth, and to loving one's fellow humans and all life on earth. It's interesting how different traditions speak to us at different points in our life, and also the people who are our teachers and guides. My mother was an atheist with intellectual and political objections to organized religion, and instead I got my sense of a spiritual life from her mother, my grandmother, though my path has been different from either of theirs.