While visiting the Kafka Museum in Prague, I learned that Franz Kafka’s relationship with his father was characterized by fear and oppression, beginning with his experience as a boy when his tyrant father once put him outside in the cold where he almost froze to death. His writings reflect the depression and angst that he suffered throughout his life. Although he worked as a lawyer during the day, he found therapeutic release at night by writing. He struggled, questioned and challenged his religious upbringing and wondered why his religion could not mediate a reconciliation with his father. It seems that his prayers went unanswered. In his “Octavo Notebook G” he wrote, “The Messiah will only arrive when we no longer need him.”    

Perhaps the oppressive relationship with his Father provoked a spiritual longing. Kafka’s dialogue with the world of the spirit to some extent affected Jewish mysticism. Kafka wrote a “Letter to His Father” describing the magnitude of the oppression he felt, but he never had the courage to deliver it. Kafka reminds me of so many people I know that grieve the loss of a loved one and then put that pain to paper and publish a book to share their insights.

Our relationship with our family often defines our spiritual self-understanding. Are we the “scapegoat” of the family or the blessed one? Are we like the favored son Jacob who, with his mother’s help, stole the blessing from his brother Esau? Are we like Tamar, the sister of Absalom who suffered sexual abuse and then rejection? The Biblical stories of Cain and Abel, Ruth and Naomi, Joseph and his brothers, the rescued and adopted infant Moses, Leah—the wife “gifted” to Jacob, and the Prodigal Son are all stories that are chock-full of spiritual tension.

In my recently published book, “How to Take Your Spiritual Temperature.  Ten Dimensions of Spirituality—from Angst to Joy” I focus on contemporary true-life stories of ordinary people who experienced anxiety in their family relationships. These stories illustrate the spiritual themes that emerge from our family relationships. This is just one of the ten dimensions of spirituality discussed in the book. It is designed to offer a practical tool for the reader to explore his/her spiritual themes in the multiple dimensions of spirituality.