Twenty-five years ago I graduated from college, became independent of my family, discovered the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and fell in love with my husband, all within one amazing and emotional year. We chose to get married even though he is black and I am white, my family opposed the marriage, he was deeply committed to his church, and I was equally committed to Yogananda.
I believe we both thought the racial difference would be the biggest challenge in our life together. We were young. We had no idea.
Two different spiritual “lenses”
My husband is a member of a conservative Christian church and has deep spiritual roots there. My spiritual life is centered in my discipleship to Yogananda, the Ananda Church, and the bonds I have with Swami Kriyananda and my gurubhais.
I was raised Christian and I am still Christian. The truth expressed through Ananda is what Christ taught and what Yogananda called original Christianity. But the fact is, my husband and I go to different churches, look at life through different spiritual lenses, and it affects every part of our life together.
Our three children, ages 17, 12 and 8, have always known both paths—the traditional Christian and the Ananda way. They have enjoyed services, Sunday school, and activities at both churches, and their preferences change as they go through different stages of life.
Each has experienced loving friendships in both communities. Homeschooling has provided an important family bond in a complex situation.
On the surface, not much common ground
As we all discover, our understanding of spiritual truths is tested in the little pieces of our daily lives. Living together with two churches in one house is a great deal more complicated than merely respecting one another’s beliefs. There doesn’t appear to be much common ground on the surface.
Our church activities are completely separate except for the few times a year I attend services with my husband. This means a great deal of time apart. We each enjoy a large spiritual family but miss having a partner to share the fellowship with.
Teaching our children spiritual concepts is strained at times, because language is limiting and differences are stark. People misunderstand and judge, which is painful for all of us. Christian churches often put enormous pressure on men if their wives are not at their sides.
“Change no circumstance, Lord”
To find the common ground, you must get under the surface. I haven’t always handled the challenges gracefully. I have had periods of anger, martyrdom, judgment, and wishful praying that circumstances would change.
But every time things weren’t right I knew I needed to go deeper and open my heart more. I always return to my mantra for this lifetime—“Change no circumstance Lord, change me.”
During Ananda services we say, “Truth is one and eternal, realize oneness with it in your deathless Self within.” Devotees are called “truth seekers” because we are challenged to realize the truth of God’s inner presence in all outward circumstance. And I am never disappointed if I listen sincerely for truth.
When I attend my husband’s church, I always pray fervently to feel God’s presence and to quiet any judgment that may creep into my consciousness. With a thrill of joy, I always find something that touches my heart. It may be something the minister says, a song that is sung, or the Scripture reading, but it’s always there.
My goal: freedom in God
On the surface it seems that the outward compromises come mainly from me. It took my husband over fifteen years to set foot in the Ananda mandir, and nearly as many years to warm up to my Ananda friends. Our family prayers are not done Ananda style, although I sometimes let slip with, “Om, Peace, Amen.”
I don’t have a meditation room or even display pictures of Yogananda, and I don’t follow a vegetarian diet. Before children I meditated three hours a day and now my sadhana is sporadic.
But all of these conditions have been my own choice, not imposed or demanded of me. I have always tried to move in the direction of more love and more light, with absolute unwavering discipleship to Yogananda.
And I have concluded that creating disharmony in my home, discomfort for my husband, or undue complications for my family does not invite more love into our lives. My goal is freedom in God, not comfort and ease here in the world.
The obvious finally became clear
In truth, my husband’s devotion and unshakable faith have been enormously inspiring to me. Considering his background and the teachings of his church, marriage to me has been a much bigger hurdle for him. I don’t fit his world in any conventional way and yet he trusts me to teach our children, and he has never asked me to change.
There came a day when the obvious finally became clear to me. I asked myself sternly, “Why does it seem to be a hardship to live with a man who is deeply devoted to Christ? Would the masters approve of such distinctions?”
And the answer came. Although he doesn’t use the same words I do, my husband’s guru is Jesus Christ. He is a sincere and loyal disciple to Christ and marriage to me has strengthened that relationship.
No, he doesn’t see Yogananda the same way I do, but the only thing that matters is loving. God is our common ground. I could almost hear Yogananda and Christ chuckle that day as I was filled with deep joy and gratitude.
A priceless example
Divine Mother provides sweet blessings to smooth a bumpy road. My mother-in-law is a strong woman with a heart she has completely given to Jesus. She has loved me from the day we met, and although she doesn’t understand what I am doing, she trusts God to take care of all of us. Her example has been priceless for my children and my marriage.
I often think of our marriage as bilingual because so many of the apparent differences are semantic. Service is a language we both understand. My husband tithes, teaches, fixes computers, cleans and drives for his church at every opportunity. I tithe, teach, sing, lead meditations and write for Ananda.
There is so much joy in seeing God in our life together. I have never had a moment’s regret. However, when friends ask me for words of advice about marrying outside their spiritual path, I can only tell them what Swami Kriyananda told me: “Meditate on your decision and be very, very sure.”
I hope that as my children grow up in this complicated picture, they will see and hear more than one definition of God’s love in this world. I pray they will have a broader vocabulary and vision that will help them listen for God’s voice with open hearts and choose love over condemnation.
I hope their father and I can help them see that the two things we do share are an intense soul cry for God’s living presence, and the understanding that, while we each use different vehicles for experiencing that presence, we want to share the journey.
Lorna Knox is a member of the Ananda Portland Church. She works as a teacher in Portland, Oregon and is the author of I Came from Joy and Scary News, Crystal Clarity Publishers.