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Excerpted from A Woman's Journey to God by Joan Borysenko. Copyright 1999 by Joan Borysenko. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"I can, and sometimes do, genuflect in my sleep."

Joan BorysenkoA Woman's Journey to God, Part 4

We, too, were on a spiritual pilgrimage for peace. We hoped both for inner peace and the inspiration to do more outwardly to bring peace to the world. The group was predominantly women, a salient characteristic of most of the seminars, workshops, and trips that I lead. It was also largely Catholic, some observant loyalists who gained succor from their faith, most religious dropouts. Two of us, myself included, were Jewish although we were both interested in a variety of religious traditions and spiritual practices. 

Kurt was the sole Indian, part Native American by blood, full-blood at heart. There were several Protestants of various denominations, and one devotee of the Hindu miracle man Satya Sai Baba, believed by his millions of followers to be an avatar, or divine incarnation, just as some believe Jesus to have been. After visiting a variety of Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, and Jain sites, our group would go to the village of Puttaparthi in southern India and spend five days in Sai Baba's ashram.

First we flew to southern India, to the town of Chennai, which was once called Madras. No one was wearing the plaid cloth that I associate with that name, and which we wore in our teens until our skin was thoroughly saturated with the blue, green, red, and purple dyes. I remember sitting in a bathtub while my mother scrubbed those stains away with Lestoil and Brillo, so that I could wear a strapless dress to a bar mitzvah party over a body that looked parboiled. 

The women in India wear either saris or Punjabis, long dresses over voluminous pants. The point is to hide the ankles, which are considered the sexiest part of the body. The tour guide explained tactfully that only prepubescent girls wear skirts and blouses. I looked down at the long skirt and blouse I had bought in Delhi and realized why I had been getting the hairy eyeball from the locals. Resolving to do better, I bought an inexpensive Punjabi, which decayed into threads by nightfall.

The next morning we visited a Catholic church, where the apostle Thomas's bones are supposed to be buried. I love Catholic churches, and I miss the mystery of the Latin mass. Candles, holy water, and incense are among my earliest memories. My live-in nanny from childhood was French Canadian and Catholic. She often took me to church with her on Sundays, which my Jewish mother must have dismissed as developmentally unimportant. It wasn't. I can, and sometimes do, genuflect in my sleep. I have always loved the Virgin Mary, who I think of as a dark-haired Semitic Jewish sister who had some fast talking to do when she got pregnant out of wedlock. And I love the rebel Rabbi Jesus who, if you know anything about Judaism, preached its highest truths. Catholic convents seem like home since I spend so many weekends in them every year, offering women's retreats. They provide inexpensive sacred space, although not without discomfort to some Jews and lapsed Catholics. That's good. It becomes grist for the mill of healing.

We got to the old stone church just as mass started. The music was exquisite, a blend of Hindu call-and-response chanting and Latin. Ordinarily I would have queued up in the center aisle and taken communion. It reminds me of the Hebrew blessings over the bread and wine, and of the growth of Christianity out of Judaism. An odd part of my spiritual work is that, while I'm a neophyte Jew, even after ten years of twice-a-week Hebrew school and eight years of spending the summer at a Jewish camp, I've become a de facto rabbi at our women's retreats. Christian women, whether loyalists or dropouts, are generally fascinated with the Jewish roots of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

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