At the time, Natalie was 7, Kate 6, and me 5. Natalie and Kate lived on the fifth floor, and I lived on the third, in a tired Bronx brownstone at the corner of
Aquaduct and 183rd. I adored them. I looked up to them. I
copied everything they said and did. But as the youngest, I was
dispensable and, according to them, quite annoying. Yet they
magnanimously allowed me to tag along on adventures.
Both girls attended Holy Cross, just
across University Avenue, south of
the park. I was in kindergarten at P.S.
91, two long blocks in the opposite
direction. They could read, write,
count, add, and subtract. They had
homework and classes in catechism. I
could finger paint. They were mature
and cool; I was not.
On this one particularly memorable
fall evening as we three lounged on the downstairs stoop, my
“mentors” professed to have something new to teach. Expertly,
they modeled how to slide onto my knees, hold palms together
in a gesture of prayer, and mumble a string of unfamiliar words.
Then they made the sign of the cross.
“Do this at night just before getting into bed,” Kate
instructed. “This is how you talk to Jesus.”
It made sense. They were older, wiser, and actually learning
something in school. Maybe this Jesus person, whoever he was,
would talk back to me. I decided to try it out that very night.
After my bath, clad in sky blue seersucker pajamas, I did as I
was carefully taught. I knelt on the linoleum floor by my twin
bed and mumbled incomprehensively—I couldn’t remember
all those strange words. Then the coup de grace: I dramatically
and proudly made the sign of the cross: forehead, left shoulder,
right shoulder, torso.
Did I mention my Jewish dad was standing by, taking this all in?
“What the heck are you doing?” he roared.
Smug that I clearly knew something he did not, I
First thing the following morning, my formidable
mother marched me down to the neighborhood synagogue,
demanding they enroll me in their Sunday school.
“We don’t take students this young, not until they’re in
first grade and at least beginning to read,” the office secretary
“Well,” my tall, elegant mother who caused people to quake
in her mere presence, said dryly, “if you won’t take her, the
Catholic Church will.”
The next Sunday I was in class.
The Sunday school experiment lasted barely two months.
It was inconvenient for my parents to deposit me there on a
regular basis. Besides, as a family we didn’t attend religious
services of any type or denomination. But
in those scant few weeks, I memorized
a Hebrew prayer, the Shema, and it’s
remained with me ever since, offering
nightly solace during a difficult childhood
and beyond (after all, I knew how to pray).
Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai
echad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God,
the Lord is One.
Later, after years of exploration in
Eastern, New Age, and New Thought practices and theology,
I found Unity. My husband Hal and I had rented workshop
space from our local Unity Center in Santa Barbara, California.
I knew I was home the moment I first entered the sanctuary.
Maybe it was the absence of crosses. Perhaps it was the non-
judgmental, accepting community of like minds. Regardless, it
was the right place at the right time. The teachings invited me
to delve as deeply into my spiritual life as I wished, or simply to
enjoy the welcoming community. That, I believe, is the beauty
of Unity—it offers us the freedom and encouragement to find
our own way. Eventually, Hal and I attended seminary and were
ordained Unity ministers in 1991. Not surprisingly, I found the
Shema similar to our Unity affirmation of faith: There is only
one Presence and Power active in the universe and in my life,
God the Good.
The Catholic Church didn’t get me, but Unity did—and I
still remember how to pray.
“That … is the beauty
of Unity—it offers us
the freedom and
encouragement to find
our own way.”
By Rev. Sonya Milton
Rev. Sonya Milton has served as a senior minister in
Unity churches in Knoxville, Tennessee, and in San
Francisco and Napa, California. Currently, Milton is
retired from pulpit ministry and enjoys spending time
with her 4-year-old great-nephew and making lunch for
her husband, Rev. Hal Milton. She continues to serve
Unity as a certified transition consultant, guest speaker,
and workshop/retreat facilitator. Previously, Milton
wrote a weekly column called “Finding My Way” for the
Napa Valley Register.
If You Won’t Take Her,
the Catholic Church Will