Ashley and I began talking religion shortly after she found the Lord at age 11 or 12. She was curious about how I had gone from Catholic to Buddhist, and early on asked questions like, "Did I believe in God?" and "Did I worship Buddha?" We talked about the history of the world religions, and we went to church together when she visited Sonora, attending both the Chapel in the Pines and Unity Church. When she first moved in with Cindy and me, she was surprised to find that we had rearranged our house so she could have a room of her own. She said, "I thought I was going to be living with Buddha." She was referring to the pictures of Buddha that had once hung on the walls in the room we gave to her. When she sat at our table, we held hands and she joined us in saying the Buddhist meal time blessing. Religion was central in Ashley's life, and while deeply committed to and grounded in her faith as a Christian, she wanted to know about all religions. I loved this about her, and I was excited to have her close at hand. Talking to her helped me to clarify my personal views about my spiritual practice and to understand the intricacies and development of her love for God.
Before we left for Hawaii in August, Ashley and I traded books. I gave her Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks and she gave me The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner. I started reading The Faith Club on the airplane. Ranya Idliby, a Muslim living in New York City, initiated the project that evolved into this book shortly after 9/11 when she was trying to answer her children's questions about Islam, God, and death. Ranya had an idea to write a children's book about the commonalities of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She enlisted the help of her co-authors Suzanne (an Episcopalian) and Priscilla (a Jew). As the women embarked upon the project, they found that they had to sort through their own issues, including deep seated stereotypes and misunderstandings about one another's faiths. The book records their journey through many difficult conversations toward a truly satisfying interfaith friendship. The women were deeply changed by the spiritual reflection and evolution that was required to build and sustain their friendship.
I finished this book the day before Ashley's funeral. I miss her so much. I miss the way we headed right into discussing intensely personal spiritual matters. I miss our Faith Club.