As you may know by now, memoirs by women about their spiritual journeys are fairly irresistible to me. In all my reading in that genre I’ve always been looking with interest for stories from women writing outside the Christian perspective. I’ve particularly looked for Jewish women’s stories and the only good one I’ve found so far is Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Erlich, so when I stumbled across Dani Shapiro’s Devotion I knew this was something I’d been waiting for.
Shapiro writes about a spiritual quest that began for her in midlife. She’d been through a lot by that time — an Orthodox upbringing that she’d left behind, the sudden death of her father, estrangement from her mother, her son’s near-fatal illness in the first year of his life, and unsuccessful attempts to have a second child. She and her husband and son moved out of New York City to rural Connecticut in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and it’s in this time of transition that Shapiro begins to explore her own spirituality. This begins with yoga and meditation retreats but inevitably, it seems, leads her back to her Jewish heritage. She realizes that she can be a Jew who practices Buddhist meditation and learns from gurus; she can be a Jew who doubts the existence of a personal God yet still prays, but she can’t not be a Jew.
The chapters are short, the writing vivid, and the organization non-linear — Shapiro jumps back and forth, in her short pieces, from past to present in no discernible pattern, the way the mind does when remembering, when trying to make sense of experience. Which is what she’s trying to: attempting to find or create some meaning that will make sense of who she is and all that’s happened to her. If that process fascinates you as it does me, you will enjoy this memoir.