God Bless You All (Day 3)

Religion in India is a way of life, and the people here practice it with an intensity I’ve never experienced before in America. We went to a Catholic cathedral today and I was almost in tears because everyone there was so focused on their devotion. It was a truly beautiful thing to see. The churches are crowded at every moment of the day, and people sit in silence in front of the many statues, often touching Jesus’ feet or holding their hands toward Mary. These people seemed happy to see us in their place of worship — at first some of us worried we would be obtrusive or invading their sacred space, but when an old man came over and said kindly, “God bless you all” I felt like he truly meant it…it came from his heart. We took our shoes off at one area of the church where people were sitting on the floor praying in front of statues. I want to capture the beauty of these moments better but I realize I’m failing. Honestly, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life, and it had nothing to do with Jesus or Mary or the church’s beauty. It was all because these people feel their religion so deeply, so wholly, that I couldn’t help but feel it too.


We went to a Sikh Gurdwara later in the day, where we removed our shoes, washed our feet, and covered our heads before entering. The women sit at one side and the men at the other, and we sat on the floor for most of the time. I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening at first, but I realized the man and woman at the front were wearing clothes of matching fabrics and…we’d stumbled into a wedding ceremony. We were welcomed warmly by everyone, and were given some sort of food at the end of the ceremony which I still can’t really identify, but it was a paste of some kind and tasted amazing. I seriously have no idea what was going on that whole time, but I felt a lovely calm in the room. Everything was so bright and beautiful — the gold, the chandeliers, the light, the people. I’ve learned more and connected more by silently observing for the past few days than I ever did back at home blabbering away with other people.


What I’ve found most of all is that religion is most people’s support system in this country. When you’re born into a religion, you form bonds with the other people at your temple/church/mosque and are supported for life. If you need food, you receive food. If you need help paying for school, you receive help. If you need a place to stay in another city, often the temple/church/mosque will provide it for free or at little cost. And these people spend an amazing amount of time at their places of worship. We’re lucky in America if people make it to church once a week for an hour, but these people come for hours and hours, often multiple times a week. It truly is the backbone of their lives. And the amount of charity work done by most of these places is absolutely essential in this country, because the amount of poor and destitute Indians is so overwhelming that help from these large congregations is probably what keeps a lot of them alive.

The silent beauty radiating from these places is too much for words, but I think it really has changed my life forever. I’ve been practicing Hinduism for the past few years all by myself, because there isn’t a temple nearby at all, and I think I’ve missed out on the bonds and support I could’ve received. Hopefully someday I’ll find my place, but for now I’ll have to be my own temple. I look forward to going to Hindu temples here, because I know it will fill me in a way I’ve not yet experienced.


On Religion

I was raised Episcopalian (which, for those of you who don’t know, is a branch of protestant Christianity). I’ve gone to church since before I can remember, but recently, I haven’t gone to church nearly as much as I used to – and while I’m inclined to say that it’s because I’ve been busy (which is part of the reason), it’s probably more because I’m a bit disillusioned.

To be fair, I’m not disillusioned by the Episcopal church itself, because I’ve always found Episcopalians to be incredibly welcoming toward all types of people (we elected the first woman priest and the first gay priest, both of which caused quite the uproar among Catholics) and the people at my church are like my family, I’ve known them so long. So I guess I don’t go to church because I’m confused, not because anything from my own church has turned me off.

I’m disillusioned by the hatred that Christianity in general has brought to this earth. While it has brought many good things, they seem overshadowed by the anger, hate, and destruction it has caused. I am disillusioned by some Christians preaching randomly selected Bible verses as they fit their hateful needs, and I don’t particularly want to be a part of that.

It’s hard for many people to distinguish between hateful “Christians” who threaten to burn Korans and loving Christians who might not even believe in God but who love their fellow man and do good to each other in the spirit of Jesus. It’s not necessarily hard for me to distinguish between these two groups, but it’s hard for me to say that I’m a part of something so conflicting and potentially destructive. I don’t need religion to be able to make the world seem better than it is or to make my life seem like it has purpose. My life has purpose, and I see the beauty in life and love a lot better than many so-called Christians.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the best people I know are extremely religious. The dean of my church is one of the most intelligent, wonderful, thoughtful men I have ever met. But, as he said in his sermon yesterday, most of the world “endorses the notion that peace comes from the barrel of a gun, justice at the point of a sword, and that this is God’s will.”
If this is God’s will, I don’t want to be a part of it. And if it’s not, which seems more accurate, then people need to stop thinking that it is. We cannot stop violence with violence, hate with hate, destruction with more destruction.

If I’m Christian at all, I’m Christian because I believe in love and goodwill to all mankind, not because I hope I’ll get to heaven or because I think I need to save all the heathens of the world from eternal damnation. I believe in Jesus’ teachings of peace and equality, not in misconstrued beliefs of anti-gay scripture or vengeful justice-seeking. I don’t know if there’s a huge omniscient spirit in the sky, watching over me and determining my fate, and if there is I don’t think it matters much to me. What matters to me is this:

I hope for a world that will one day be free of violence in the name of God, and I hope for a day in which everyone is treated equally with love and fairness. That’s the meaning of Christmas, but I think it’s the meaning of life, too.