Can we talk about religion for a moment? It can be an uncomfortable subject for some people – regardless of whatever place on the spectrum you may fall on – religious, somewhere in between, or not at all. I find religion – its theory, its practice, its “place” in society and how individuals approach it – to be an interesting conversation. And oftentimes a necessary one, despite any discomfort it might bring.
People often talk about “being religious” like it’s a category that one either checks or doesn’t. The standard for whether you practice a faith is how often you attend a place of worship and how involved you are in that place. Maybe too, how it affects your approach to any one thing in society, and indeed to society overall.
But despite all these categories, it seems to me that being religious is both a matter of communal recognition as well as personal perspective of what that might constitute. Either way, religiosity or lack thereof is complex, and not treating it as such, is probably why our public conversations about religion range from the oversimplified to the chaotic.
I read something really cool about faith recently. It was in a piece on marriage in The New York Times called, The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give. Comparing the difficulties of being married to practicing faith, the author wrote something insightful:
You can be bad at a religion and still be 100 percent that religion. Just because you take the Lord’s name in vain doesn’t make you suddenly a non-Christian. You can be a sinner. In fact, I think it’s good theology that no matter how hard you try, you are sure to be a sinner, just as you are sure to be lousy, at least sometimes, at being married.
That is a really profound and often forgotten sentiment by all people, regardless of their (non-) religious viewpoints. Sometimes people categorize you into a separate kind of human when you assert that you’re religious. (Depending on where you are, they do that too when you’re on the far end of not being religious at all i.e. an agnostic or atheist.) The tendency is to place people in boxes that we create about who they are, based on their beliefs – or based on what we think are their beliefs. But human beings, if nothing else, can be complicated creatures. So are their beliefs, and the ways they practice them.
I am a cradle and practicing Catholic: Sunday Mass, the Eucharist, Confession, etc. – the works. (Side note: It always amuses me that many Americans treat Black Catholics like unicorns. If it helps, I’m not American. I’m Nigerian and Catholicism is fairly prominent in many Black-dominated parts of the world.) Church is one of the few places I can rely on for peace of mind. It’s a place I find solace and no need to be something other than whatever I am in the moment. And maybe too, having moved around quite a bit, it’s a place I have almost always relied on to feel like home.
But I’m not always a “good” Christian and Catholic. (Another side note: The United States is seriously the only country I’ve ever known to not see the latter as a subset of the former. What’s up with that?) But even when I am the admitted sinner, I have always held on to my faith as a part of my identity. In my conviction, religion and spirituality go together, not separately.
And even in my imperfections and the difficult questions I ask of my faith and of myself, I find myself always returning to the position that ultimately I think human beings are limited. Our capacity to understand the world no matter how brilliant, is limited. Our versions of love, truth, peace, and justice are limited. There has to be more – religion and spirituality is the journey to be open to more.
This doesn’t always go over well when you meet people in a culture and in parts of the culture – big city life – that for all intents and purposes, tend to embrace the secular more than the religious. But that’s why I’ve always loved the city – you meet people from different walks of life. I am grateful that for me, this was always more of the norm than not.
In childhood, I would think, “This person believes something different from me. Cool.” And my parents always reiterated, “You treat people with love and respect, no matter what.” Works for me. In adulthood, I probably have the same general attitude – except now I want to know why people believe what they believe in (or don’t), because I find their stories interesting. But I have realized that such an attitude is not always reciprocated.
A list of things I have been told after asserting or confirming my faith:
1. You’re way too smart to be religious (/Catholic).
2. Why would you believe in something that you can’t prove?
3. So…you don’t believe in science?
4. [Insert any political assumption about Catholics/religious people here.]
Writing a response to any of these is a whole other article in and of itself. But for the most part, those type of questions come with a spirit of condescension. Pun completely intended. The religious and the not-so-religious or not-religious-at-all, tend to be equally condemning.
Sometimes I think in order to get along with those around them, people will hide or diminish a part of their identity. I find this is true while navigating friendships from the time you’re an impressionable late teen leaving home, to when you start to resemble some sort of well-adjusted adult. I am religious, some of my friends are too – and are of a different faith from the one I practice. And some of my friends aren’t. And sometimes that makes for very awkward religious conversation.
Awkward conversations, even ones that are full of passion, do not disturb me as much as the sense that someone – sometimes a friend – would rather ignore the part of me that is religious. And I would be lying if I said I have not felt this sentiment at times. Being religious when (some of) your friends are not, also can put you in the position of being an apologist for your faith in public conversations – even when you don’t intend to be.
I have found that in terms of Catholicism, there seems to be this notion in popular cultural opinion that Catholics have one opinion about any one thing. Catholicism is universal in practice of faith, but something it is not in theology, is singular.
Take the issue of gay marriage. There are priests (and people) who were pro gay marriage from the start. There are priests (and people) who continue to be against it, in all contexts. There are priests (and people) who believe the state’s involvement in marriage is entirely unwarranted. There are priests (and people) who see civil marriage and religious marriage as different and separate from each other. There are a plethora of perspectives more than the above mentioned. The point? Faith is complicated.
Like most people, I don’t like to be seen solely as a “representative” of my faith – to my friends or anyone else. I’m a sinner after all, and sometimes I might give you the wrong impression. More importantly, it might give you only a half-full picture of what it means to be a person of that faith, or any faith for that matter.
But I also don’t want that aspect me of me ignored. You won’t get to really see me or fully accept the complicated parts of me that make me, me if you ignore my faith. And it’s the same for you. If I choose to ignore the parts of you that make you, you – to make myself comfortable, then I’ll never fully see you.
In the end, we have to let people, especially our friends, see us in all our parts. I think our differences are what makes us all so interesting – religion or lack thereof. If we can approach these difference with love and respect, I think we’ll find that even when our friends are something we aren’t, our friendships can still blossom in meaningful ways. And in this context, maybe even make us proud to be humans so different from each other, and yet genuinely able to call each other, “friend.” But first I must see all the parts of you, and you must see all the parts of me too.
by Jayaram V
All the gods in the heaven of Brahman adore in contemplation their Infinite Supreme Spirit. This is why they have all joy, and all of the worlds and all desires. And the man who on this earth finds and knows Atman, his own self, has all his holy desires and all the worlds and all joy. - Chandogya Upanishad
Those who worship me fixing their minds always upon me, with unflinching sincerity and supreme faith, I consider them to be most perfect in Yoga - The Bhagavadgita
If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation, behold, all things are become new - St.Paul
I think of Agni as Father, as Kinsman, as Brother, as a Friend for ever. Rig Veda, 10.7.3
You may have a thousand friends, but is God one among them? How frequently do you think of Him and seek His advise in your personal matters? Most people rush to God in times of trouble, but do you seek him when you need general counsel? This essay suggest a simple practice to manifest the power of God and His guidance in your daily life.
Make God your intuitive companion. Entreat Him to be there all the time with you and help you in all your endeavors. Make Him your close Confident, your trusted advisor, in whom you can confide all your secrets and to whom you can pour out all your woes.
Make Him your Divine Companion, some one whom you cannot leave, some one whom you cannot forego and some one who is always there with you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing and whatever you are thinking.
Share with Him your thoughts and your fears, your secrets and your laughter, your life and your goals, your losses and your gains. And as you prepare yourself to rest, let Him enter your heart and lead you to beautiful dreams or undisturbed peace.
It is through friendship with God that you realize the true meaning of friendship that rests upon the values of trust, faith and unconditional love. It is through our friendship with Him, we realize the purpose and significance of our very existence.
Your friendship with God may start as a mere imagination on your part. With belief and faith you may act as if He is there with you, responding to your request and listening to your heart. Know that imagination is the power of God inherited by you as a part of your creation. It is diluted by the weaknesses of your mind, but enriched by the brilliance of your vision. If you practice with perseverance and certitude of faith, you would soon realize that something that began as a mere imagination in your mind, has taken shape into a living reality , bringing God right into the center of your world and your life.
In the beginning you will have many expectations from Him and at times you may be even disappointed with His responses, for He does not think the way we think and does not act the way we expect Him to act.
He has reasons for every thing that happens to us which are not entirely known to us. But live in the assurance that whatever He is causing to manifest in your life is a part of His mysterious divine plan, in which the ultimate outcome can only be your good and your welfare.
He who spends his entire day in the company of God is never lost to Him. God will take care of all his responsibilities and will look after all his needs. This is the message conveyed to us by the true followers of God in all the religions.
In the company of God we have nothing to lose except our pettiness and partial vision. With Him as our friend and benefactor, we have all the riches of the worlds at our disposal.
In the light of His love and the power of His Truth, we are freed from the diseases of the human mind and the pettiness of our ordinary egoistic consciousness. He imparts to us such qualities that are only heard but not experienced. He develops in us a vision that is rare to achieve by ordinary mortals. He pours into our lives such delight and depth of experience which we can hardly even imagine.
In your friendship with God, do not be a mere passive receiver of favors and blessings. Reciprocate with all your heart and sincerity, like a true friend, with whatever you have. instead of seeking favors from Him, give Him every thing that you believe is truly yours. Deflect to him every thing that comes to you as a reward or appreciation. Set aside all ideas of ownership and make Him the true owner of your life and your wealth.
Offer to Him your life and achievements in the spirit of true friendship with a sense of unparalleled sacrifice. Live a life that is not truly yours but of God. Live a life that is based not on your petty human considerations but on the sacred values of divine life.
It is in this giving and in this initiative, you will taste the true value a friendship that is eternal and immutable in nature. It is through this sacrifice that you become a true companion to God. Not by seeking His favors or by using Him to further your own egoistic ambitions.
When we overcome the need to use God for our own ends we achieve the right to enter into a true relationship with Him. When we lose the urge to impress Him in order to gain His favors, we transcend wants and desires and become closer to Him. When we lose everything in order to gain Him we really find in Him a true and valuable companion who would stay with us till eternity.
Now, you may wonder to which God we are referring here. God in this context is the highest supreme Self, your personal God, family deity, or your inner Self. Choose any of them, but just one so that your mind can be stabilized in that.