I was born into a Christian family. I was raised as what I term “Bapticostal”. My parents divorced when I was four and I spent one weekend with my father in the Church of God, and the other weekend with my mom’s family in the Baptist church. If you know anything at all about different Christian denominations, you will know what an oxymoron it is to but baptist and pentecostal together. If you are not familiar, rest assured when I say that the two are about as diametrically opposed as you can be between two protetstant Christian denominations.
I grew up with what is known as the protestant work ethic. Work, labor of any kind, was praised, and it was drilled in that if I wanted anything out of life that I would have to work for it. I grew up not expecting handouts and believing that accepting charity was a show of laziness
Above all else, I was raised to believe that Christianity meant believing in the tenets of the church without question. If I had questions I learned not to ask them. It was more important to have faith and believe than it was to understand. Knowing- understanding- was not necessary. All that was necessary was to believe what was taught.
If you know me, then you know that I have always struggled with being a people pleaser. I think part of that stems from my parents’ divorce. It doesn’t really matter what caused it. I have always struggled to live an authentic life because the authentic me doesn’t always lead to approval. I have hid myself and tried to live based on what makes other people happy for so long, and that included blind allegiance to my religion of birth. I had questions, but I never asked them. Asking questions meant that I was “bad” or “didn’t have faith” or “didn’t believe”. For a long time I was fine with this. I pushed aside my doubts and questions. I refused to think for myself and insisted that I believed what I was taught.
In May 2011 my life changed. I came home from work and found that my husband had passed away. I was 31. He was 24. That day changed my life forever. After the initial phases of grief I started to look at my life. I began to have little doubts about my faith. I began to ask myself questions. It wasn’t long after that until I decided that I really wanted to ask these questions. The faith I grew up with was not welcoming of these questions. So I began to look elsewhere.
I had always felt a special connection to Judaism and so that is where I turned to. I began reading everything I could about Judaism and gravitating more and more toward it as a culture and religion. It wasn’t a linear path, but in 2016 I completed my conversion to Judaism when I sat before the beit dein and entered the mikveh.
Part of the process was choosing my Jewish name. A lot of convert women choose names like Devorah or Ruth, but they did not speak to me. I chose my name by looking to my life. One thing that resonated with me was my focus on life. I finally felt that I was living an authentic version of my life. Also, looking at my life after the death of my husband, I was, quite literally, still living. So I chose the name Chaya. But I was torn between life and the moon. I have always loved the moon. It’s feminine energy speaks to me, and the moon has special significance for Jewish women. So I chose to take a second name, Levana. My Jewish name- Chaya Levana- quite literally means Living Moon.
It’s now three years after my conversion. Judaism has been a fitting addition and change to my life. It speaks to me and is where I find the most meaning in my life. I haven’t been static in my spiritual journey, however. Judaism encourages questions, and I still have plenty of those. I love that my faith encourages me to ask questions. While Judaism is my religion, I don’t always practice it in stereotypical Jewish ways. I blend many different religions into my personal practice. I have added many aspects of Buddhism into my walk as well as Celtic spirituality to honor my Scottish heritage. I also infuse a lot of earth based, hoodoo and conjure into my walk as well. I am becoming more and more vocal in my political beliefs, and those are fully fused with my spiritual beliefs as well. Feminism has been a huge recent influence on my spirituality.
Now that I’ve written all of this out I’m pretty amazed. I mean, it’s my life and I know it, but seeing it written out I just feel it all at once. It’s definitely not been a linear path. I haven’t even reached the end of it. That’s what amazes me the most. I have walked an amazing path, and I’m only part way along. I still have more to come. I fully expect that the rest of my spiritual path will be just as amazing as the first part.