Friday, December 11, 2009

The Faith of my Father

"Dad, what's that?"

DairyStateKid#2 and I were headed out the door at way-too-early into way-too-cold this morning, getting him to his bus stop. I was still in pajamas and bathrobe, with boots and winter parka and hat and gloves to keep me warm.

"I'll explain in the car."

"That" is this:

Some 28 38 years ago, upon graduation from college with a degree in Anthropology, my sister won a prize, a small grant that would enable her to travel to a former English colony in Africa. Her husband, a wonderful amateur guitarist and folk music enthusiast, went with her of course. At the encouragement of our father (also an Anthropologist), she chose The Gambia, a tiny West African nation that is surrounded by the former French colony of Senegal. (About a year earlier I had been fortunate enough to go to both countries on a trip with my parents.)

In the Gambia my sister and brother-in-law wound up apprenticed for a year to a kora musician and praise singer who was Muslim.

It is the custom, at least among this particular group of Muslims, to write sayings from the Qur'an on a wooden tablet, then to wash the ink into a bottle. The bottle of inky water would then be worn on one's person as a sort of talisman.

Aware of a particular saying from the Qur'an, my father, through my sister, commissioned their host to make several such tablets--but not to wash off the ink (a request that, my sister later reported, their host found quite puzzling). Everyone in our family got one of these, and when my first marriage ended several years ago, I left mine behind, designating it as belonging to DairyStateKid#1. My mother kindly got me a second one, which, now that I think if it, has been designated as belonging to DSK#2.

My father--we can call him LoneStarStateDad--had grown up attending an Episcopalian church, but when I was growing up he only attended on Christmas Eve and, perhaps, once in a while on Easter. (And when I was confirmed.) His real God was the God of the natural world, and his worship was simply to live in and learn about it as much as he could. But, owing to his personality or perhaps his choice of academic discipline or, more likely, some combination of both, I found him to be a strong influence for pluralism.*  Indeed, when I converted to Unitarian Universalism (and I accept that term for the process even if some don't), I was in some ways coming home to the inchoate faith of my father.

This is the translation of the verse on that tablet, typed out on my father's old typewriter, nearly 3 4 decades ago:

*This is not to take anything away from my mother, EmpireStateMom, who herself is an open and pluralistic person on matters of religion.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments on this blog are moderated retroactively. Comments will be published immediately, but spam, slander, abuse personally directed at other commenters or at third parties, or comments that hijack the thread will be removed without further discussion, explanation or apology. Comments that I am unable to read (for whatever reason) will be deleted.

Comments that challenge the viewpoints expressed here within the bounds of civility and good manners are welcome. Blogger limits comments to 4,096 characters.