Tonight is the first night of Passover, as well as Good Friday, and, so I see in the Times, yesterday was a Jain holiday in India. Every year I cobble together my own version of the Passover service — which you can do because the holiday is observed at home. While there is a book you use, and there is an order to events, (“seder” means “order”) for those of us who are not Orthodox, there is room to add, linger, and trim parts — which means we can personalize the story. The story, of course, is of the Jews escaping from slavery in Egypt. But the story is also centrally about inspiring young people to ask questions — and thus through their questions to come to care about the story. So each year there must be new questions and new stories — which is, of course, why I love Passover. It is a holiday of inquiry.
All of this focus on faith linked in an interesting way with my YA Materials class at Rutgers. One student is a devout Christian, and while she was open in all of the right ways to the dark and dystopian YA novels we read — no instinct to censor, no frantic hunt for “messages” good or bad — she felt the books failed young readers in not offering them what she experiences as the hope and light of faith. Now I don’t share her faith, or even the sense that any religion has a special claim on what it offers young people. But I do think our literature — especially our fiction — is week on faith, philosophy, spiritual yearning. It does much better at shining a light on internal suffering than on epiphany. As another student in that same class pointed out, even for kids with very troubled lives there are moment of joy, of transcendence, of uplift, and of faith — of some sort. The typical 60s teenager carried Hesse in his backpocket, at least in my neck of the woods. We might be Steppenwolfs, but we were on a Journey to the East — a quest for meaning.
What happened to that sense of adolescence as a time of spiritual yearning, seeking big answers, asking big questions, seeing the universe in a grain of sand, feeling that there were deep truths in a smile, in a tree, a sunset, a touch, a force beyond us? I repeat that I am not advocating for any faith, or even faith at all. But I wonder if we have become so attached to limning the misfortunes of coming of age that we have put into the shadow the equally valid hopes, yearnings, and moments of transcendence. The world is too much with us, we see all the details of the tweeted now. We don’t see that equally true teenage sense of, or at least deep yearning for, a beyond.