It’s a charged word with a lot of weight, isn’t it?
Devotion by Dani Shapiro is a spiritual detective story that seeks to answer the question, “What beliefs are worthy of devotion?” Some people enjoy the comfort of knowing what to devote themselves to. “They had certainty,” Shapiro writes of her extended family. “I would always have doubt.”
Shapiro is complicated with Judaism. I am complicated with Catholicism. What are you complicated with?
Amid the errands and to-do lists of getting through a day, Shapiro searches for meaning. She longs for a personal sense of faith, a connection both to something greater and to something familial. Her quest is shaded by loss and near-loss.
She lost her father in a car wreck when she was 23. Her son, Jacob, survived life-threatening infantile spasms. Her mother, well, she’s a complication too.
Prayer & Wisdom.
Devotion’s pages are part contemplative prayer and part philosophical musing within stories of love and loss. Shapiro communes with wise friends. She reflects on the philosophies of Buddhists, yogis, and rabbis. It’s as if she wants assurance that she’s in the right place, devoting herself to the right things. If that’s something you wonder about too, then I can’t recommend this book enough.
“Midlife was a bitch, and my educated guess was that the climb only got steeper from here,” Shapiro writes. Devotion was published when she was 48. Much of what she writes about takes place in her early 40s. As a 40-something woman, Devotion speaks to me in a way it might not have eight years ago, when it was first released. I would have enjoyed it. Yet, I wouldn’t have realized how lost I could feel in my 40s.
I am losing count of conversations with friends that end with one of us saying, “You’d think we know this by now, right?” Or, “Our parents didn’t struggle with this, did they?”
Speaking of Faith.
When it comes to faith, Shapiro makes it clear that she does not believe she’s praying to a God who secures good parking spaces from above for her. She disdains bromides like, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle; and, Everything happens for a reason. When she articulates what she does believe there is space left for inevitable changes. She says she believes in a presence, a connection, in some permanence that existed before us and that will remain after us.
A treasured resource.
There are three pieces of wisdom gained from Devotion that I want to keep holding onto:
1. These Buddhist metta phrases:
May I be protected and safe.
May I be contented and pleased.
May my physical body support me with strength.
May my life unfold smoothly with ease.
2. Some understanding of samskara. “It is a predisposition from past impressions…They are impressions left in the mind after any experience.” Now that I better understand it, I think about how my samskaras bring me to what feels like an inevitable conclusion. And, how another person’s samskaras might bring them to a different seemingly inevitable conclusion.
3. This piece of Ayurevedic wisdom: “Be careful what you surround yourself with, because you become what you surround yourself with.”
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Dani Shapiro’s book Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love was released in January 2019. I’m reading it now and my cup is overflowing. Her other books include the memoirs, Hourglass, Still Writing, and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History.