Layer 7: Faith – Example 1
I was born and raised in a household where my parents practiced different religions. My father is a Sunni Muslim and my mother, a Roman Catholic. I was raised Roman Catholic and went to Mass and Catholic education classes weekly at our church. While I knew my father prayed multiple times a day, fasted twice a year and never ate pork or drank alcohol, I did not know much about his actual religion as a child. He would come to church with us and pray silently to himself. As we grew older, he came less frequently, but always to the major holidays in support of my mother (Christmas, Easter, etc.).
I grew up in the suburbs of Richmond, VA, in the 1980s, where the vast majority of people were practicing Christians. While Catholicism was not unusual, Islam was. My neighbors and classmates were all practicing Christians, and I attended Episcopalian schools, where God and other Christian-influenced references were common.
My religious beliefs changed as I grew older. A defining moment for me was seeing our priest drive a new BMW car and being very confused as I assumed priests lived a life of poverty. I started questioning more and more the role of organized religion and could not understand why worshippers would spend all this money on these elaborate structures when their teachings said to give back to the poor and others who were less fortunate. I could not reconcile what I perceived to be a disconnect and started to question Catholicism and other organized religions.
Having been raised and educated (grades 3-12) in Catholic and broader Christian-based environments, I took comfort in being able to fit in with the dominant religion. I understood the rituals, was familiar with the teachings, and reveled in the holidays. However, there was a always a side of me that couldn’t understand how people could be so dedicated to a religion and teaching that truly did not resonate with me. This confusion made moments of resonance all the more powerful when I began to feel them with new exposure to different practices and beliefs.
Around this time I went to visit my brother who was volunteering on a Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. I was afforded the opportunity to attend a sweat lodge ceremony and saw yet another form of worship and spirituality. This type of worship and veneration of the natural world around us fascinated me, and I felt a click of recognition that this felt right to me.
My break from Roman Catholicism and Christianity at large was complete in the days and months following 9/11. I saw people who proclaimed to be “good Christians” hurt, threaten, and pronounce evil those that looked and sounded and prayed like my father. I couldn’t reconcile the Christian values I had been taught with what I was seeing, and decided that I did not want any part of it.
I still find the rituals and smells of a Catholic Mass comforting, but no longer go with any frequency. In retrospect, much of what I was seeing in the days post 9/11 was the American national response to that tragedy being done in the name of a religion whose tenets do not support the hatred that I experienced. However, I saw the very real threat of practicing a religion for which the dominant majority does not have tolerance. From this I learned that unless you are part of the majority, it is safer not to publicize your differences. Religious tolerance is a hugely important social justice issue for me, and I struggle with intolerance or what I deem to be disrespect of others’ religions.
In my early twenties, I took classes on various world religions and loved the overlap and similarities that I found in both monotheistic and polytheistic religions. I was enthralled with the mysticism of Sufism and how Buddhism felt more like a way of life than a weekly worship session. Unknowingly, I started to develop my own creed. I became acquainted with a healer whose spirituality focused more on energy, chakras, and intuition, and similar to my experience in the sweat lodge, I felt another click of resonance.
In the last decade, I started to attend Friends’ Meetings, as I found the Quakers’ beliefs and social justice leanings to be in alignment with my own. I appreciate the hour of silence their Meetings afford, which to me feel like practicing self-love and providing myself with a gift of the sacred.
All of these unique interactions and exposures to different practices and spiritual beliefs have helped my faith journey to evolve. I believe that people are inherently good, want to do good, and everyone has God in them, though it may be hidden or discouraged by their environment; I believe that the Divine is in the natural world around us, that all living organisms are sentient and should be treated with respect; I believe in honoring intuition and ancient wisdom and that we can all access these gifts if we get quiet and just listen.
Being raised in an interfaith household greatly influenced my own spirituality, as I saw acceptance and a focus on commonality, rather than on differences. While both of my parents are devout in the worship of their own religion and practices, being exposed to multiple religions created a personal acceptance of creating my own religious traditions. I gave myself full permission to create a mosaic of beliefs and practices, selecting only those where I felt resonance.
While I continue to struggle with finding a spiritual group to which I can relate and with the fear of sharing my spirituality with others, I am starting to own the beauty of my own beliefs and practice. I believe that I cannot fully share the Divine I believe is in every being, until I can own the Divinity within myself.
I have recently wondered if I am missing a valuable lesson by selecting aspects of religions that I like and ignoring those that are less attractive to me. What is easy and comfortable does not promote growth—that comes from the struggle or challenge. I have also reflected that in my formative years, the struggle I experienced with money being spent on a priest’s car or a place of worship was my own desire to see the “ideal” and I judged what I found to be lacking. I now view houses of worship differently: as safe havens for communities to meet and spend time in each other’s company. I am also learning the lesson that personal accountability is more important (and probably holier!) than judging others on their choices. I try to reframe judgments and gently ask myself how am I living a life that is in alignment with my beliefs rather than putting the onus on others.