By Hyla Molander

Raising Children Without Religion By Hyla Molander

My dad is Lutheran, my mom is Jewish. My childhood exposed me to traditions from both denominations, but I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as religious. Spiritual, yes. Religious, no. At birth, I was given the Hebrew name “Chai,” which means life, but that’s as far as Judaism went. Sure, there were big Bar Mitzvah parties for my friends, but the only time my family lit a menorah was when we visited my grandmother’s house. I do recall my dad’s Lutheran side of the family whispering nasty things about Jews, so I assumed my parents had come to some sort of understanding that religious rituals would not take place in our house, or maybe they just never spoke of it at all.

No, worship was not a part of my upbringing. As for God, if he does exist, I’m still pretty angry with him. Witnessing the sudden death of my late husband, Erik, 29, on Easter Sunday of all days, would be enough to infuriate most people. And, if there is a god, why would he condemn me for embracing my feelings? Or for questioning his existence? The night Erik died, our 17-month-old daughter, Tatiana, wrapped her legs around my pregnant belly, pointed at her motionless daddy, and said, “Uh, uh.” Tatiana saw the blood tricking down the side of Erik’s mouth from where he’d bitten his tongue as he fell onto the white-tiled floor. She heard the panic in our voices, even though I tried to reassure her that Daddy was going to be alright. But Erik wasn’t alright.

No, Erik did not rise like the stories of Jesus. Nor did Erik’s blood mark him to be passed over. But I prayed nonetheless. I sat in the hospital’s chapel room, in front of those three small candles, and prayed to a god who I had never prayed to before. Please . . . please. Still, Erik wasn’t alright. Erik was dead. “He’s much happier with God,” someone told me soon after the funeral. To which I fumed, “He was happy being with us, with me, with his babies.” Why would he want to be anywhere else? Why would a god do that? My best friend, Natalie, reads the bible and goes to church on a regular basis, but she never claimed that God had a

purpose for Erik. She cried alongside of me and tried to make sense out of Erik’s young death, like the rest of us. Natalie doesn’t try to force her religion on me. In fact, she once said, “Hyla, as much as you’re opposed to organized religion, you’re one of the most Christian behaving people I know.” Meaning, of course, that she thinks I’m a good person. Even if I don’t pray in any traditional sort of way. Natalie knows that I respect her views, that I respect people’s rights to covet all religions. She also knows that my upbringing showed me the conflicts that can arise when there are contrasting views. My church lives in nature. The scent of wildflowers, a magnificent sunset, a gust of unexpected wind from the powerful Pacific Ocean waves—these are my god. During times of sorrow, I hike to the mountaintops, open my arms, and ask for answers. Sometimes the chill of the San Francisco fog envelopes me; sometimes the California

sun warms my skin, but always, when I sit still for long enough, when I take the time to hear my own breath, the path to my truth becomes clear. This is what I want for my children, ages 2, 7, 8, and 12. I want them to know the difference between right and wrong —not because some book tells them they will be condemned if they are bad, but because we have raised them to be conscious, loving individuals. I want them to care about others, to give more than they take, and to know themselves so that they can mindfully navigate their way through life. However my children choose to find their truth—whether it’s on a mountaintop or in some temple of worship—I want them to respect other people’s practices, and most importantly, respect what they see when they look in the mirror.

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