I finished Devotion yesterday, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. All along I’ve said that this book is not for me. And it wasn’t… not really anyway. I’m not one who questions my spirituality all that often nor does religious exploration appeal to me. And me doing yoga? Not a pretty picture. More importantly, though, is that this idea of a “spiritual journey” usually rings false or forced to me.
But, that’s not how Devotion comes across. What made this a spiritual journey book I could appreciate was Dani Shapiro’s authenticity. She didn’t accept everything she learned nor did she really have any momentous revelations. Instead, she tried new things, incorporating some changes into her life and leaving behind the ones that didn’t work for her.
To give some background, Devotion chronicles, in Shapiro’s own words, “my search for something to believe.” She was born Jewish and raised in an Orthodox home, but she abandoned that lifestyle as soon as she could. However, she didn’t replace it with anything. Now, in her midlife, she has decided to explore what it is she wants to believe. In the video at the end of this post, Shapiro explains that the book is structured like a puzzle or list with 102 pieces. Together these pieces follow different strands of her life — her son’s illness in infancy, her father’s death, her relationship with her mother, her yoga and meditation, her doubts about Judaism — leading her to seek ways of connecting with her spirituality.
In many ways, this book should not have interested me. In addition to my relative spiritual indifference, I’m still far from the “afternoon of my life” as Jung says. Many of the issues in the book don’t really pertain to me. In general, though, I could enjoy it because it is an engaging story about her family that as a reader I can appreciate. But I also found, in small ways, I could relate. I know what it’s like to have a mind way too cluttered and to worry about everything and to not know exactly what I believe. One passage towards the end of the book particularly stood out to me. Shapiro and her family are finally hanging a mezzuzah on their doorpost, and she writes:
“I was pretty sure there was no parking-spot-procuring God, swooping down from on high, helping out in a crisis–or even a traffic jam. I wished I believe that–but I didn’t. I simply didn’t. Still, here was a form, a ritual, a fulfillment of an ancestral commandment. It was something rather than nothing.”
After all that’s happened, I don’t think I can believe in that type of God either. Perhaps I once did, but now? It would make it too hard to explain all the bad in the world. But I still cling to certain traditions and ideas about God and Judaism myself because it’s something. And for just getting me to think about that, this book deserves credit.
To hear Dani Shapiro talk about the book and read an excerpt, watch the video below: