Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a function as “the normal or characteristic action of anything.” They list several definitions for religion. For our purposes we’ll use the second definition. It states, “religion is any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy.” You’ll note that this definition does not include a belief in a creator, ruler, or Divine Being. This is because for some of us, that is not a function of religion.
So what is the function of religion in your life? What are the normal characteristics? What purpose do we expect Judaism to have in our lives? Is the function to give us a system of belief? Is it to give us a way to worship? Is it to give us a code of ethics and a philosophy, or a method of giving recognition to a creator, ruler, or Divine Being? For those of you who are not sure, let’s step back in time.
What is your earliest memory of a religious moment or occasion?
Mine is my First Holy Communion. I was about six years old and dressed in a white dress. I had white gloves, white socks with a frilly edge, and white patent leather shoes. I had a small white pocketbook and a square of white lace on my head. I remember how we lined up, boys in one row, girls in the other, and waited our turn to receive the host. I knew I couldn’t touch the host with my fingers or my tongue – I had to let it melt at its own rate. I remember being surprised at the slightly bitter taste and unpleasant texture, but that didn’t stop me from taking a considerable amount of pride in myself that day. If you are also a convert to Judaism and grew up in a different faith, perhaps you have a similar memory.
If you were raised in a secular Jewish home, your earliest religious memory might be of the Holy Days at Temple and involve sitting for long periods of time during services. Then again, maybe you remember lighting the candles on Chanukah. Think about it for a bit. Be as specific as possible in your memory. Write down as much as you can remember. The same is true if you grew up in an observant Jewish home. Maybe lighting the Shabbat candles and reciting the prayers over the wine and bread form your earliest religious memory. Perhaps you were involved in preparing the meal. Perhaps your first memory is of a Seder or other celebration.
No matter what religion you practiced in childhood, write down as much as you can about your first religious memory. Capture as much of the feeling as possible. Those feelings will be an important part in deciding the function of religion in your life.
Once you have your memory and related feelings on paper, make a list of the normal or characteristic actions. Was it the ritual of the observance that you felt strongly about? Was it the food? The people who were there? What was the part that you felt most connected to? This is important because it gives you insight into the function of religion for you at a very early age.