I've never believed in God, not even when my Orthodox Jewish parents demanded it. I had too many questions: Was God just a face and hands, or did he have a body? What kind of deity let people starve, hurt, hate? There were no answers—or at least, no one wished to offer me any. I grew to regard people of faith with contempt, but also envy. Their blind acceptance bought solace; my questions bought me nothing but confusion. The price of skepticism was feeling lost and alone.

During my marriage, my ex and I discussed taking our kids to various houses of worship. They were curious about—envious of?—their churchgoing peers. Though we viewed organized religion with suspicion, we still wondered, How would our kids know what they believed about everything if they’d never been exposed to anything? But as with so many things, we just never got around to it.

When I started dating after my divorce, I made it clear to my friends that God-fearing gents were a no-go. After being introduced to John, a tattooed punk-rock poet, I assumed if he was doing anything on Sundays, it was sleeping in. So when he told me on our second date that he’d been a full-fledged, traveling-the-world, preaching-the-word-of-God missionary in his 20s, I nearly lost my heathen mind. Even after John explained that he’d left Christianity behind and was exploring his own version of spirituality, I thought, You’re sweet, but you’re toast.

Only he wasn’t. The more I considered the conundrum of John’s beliefs, past and present, the more questions I had. What did a spirituality built on the tenets of love and hope, as John was cobbling together, look like? If I could separate faith from organized religion, could I become a believer? What could I gain from contemplating everything I’d summarily dismissed in my youth? John had questions of his own, and it felt good to ask them together. Early on, he texted me a blackout poem he’d made: He had used aqua and indigo splotches of paint to redact all the text from a page until the only words remaining were WHEN WE PRACTICE, WE BECOME.

I stared at this hidden message of hope. What did I want to practice—cynicism? Judgment? What if faith could be less about a fervent belief in God and more about a fervent belief in myself and my fellow humans? What if—through charitable work, acts of kindness, the lessons I was teaching my children—I had been practicing all along? Not Judaism, but Love. Maybe I hadn’t forsaken religion; I had just reimagined it.

Recently, I drove the kids to Ebenezer Baptist Church, here in Atlanta, for Sunday service. Save weddings, they’d never been inside a place of worship. We listened to a descendant of Robert E. Lee preach at the pulpit of Martin Luther King Jr., and I thought, We are all capable of so much more change than we realize. My children and I now have plans to visit Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish temples; a mosque; and at least one more church. Not as voyeurs or converts, but out of openhearted curiosity and respect. I am listening. I am practicing. And I’m inspired to think of who I might be becoming.


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