I do not know much about Saibaba. Who is the man who has an entire temple dedicated solely to him, his philosophy, and beliefs? A prophet? A saint? What made him stand apart? Was he a façade? Did he deceive his followers who acknowledged his benevolences to the community? You know, like those preachers you see on T.V. who live lavish lifestyles, flaunting their Ferraris and manipulating you into believing that by placing their hand on your head you will be purified of all sin. I thought only God had that kind of power. But, if my husband prays to him, then I believe there must be something good and respectable in him. Hence, I join my husband as we raise our hands in a reverent prayer. Om Sai Ram.
I have passions, things that I’m devoted to. I do. And with an appetite for them so immense, that on my days where I have been disassembled by Life, I turn to them, and in haste, they put me back together. That’s pretty miraculous if you ask me.
Religion is not one of them.
Nor is it a compass, much less a moral guide for me, at least not all of the time. After all, I never have walked the straight line.
My very first memory of God was during my First Communion classes, though I’m certain He was embedded in me long before that (I was baptized) whence God was still, “Papa Dios.” However, the concept of an omnipotent Being and what that Being meant to me were and remain vastly different. God existed, or so I was told, but, if He did, what did that symbolize? What does He have to do with me? What role does He play in my life? (Questions that I can only truthfully answer now. It’s called profound introspection in my 30’s.)
On the day of my First Communion I remember wearing a white knee length lace dress, with a matching lace white veil and gloves. Not the beautiful Spanish lace. I’m talking about the el cheapo kind one would find in a Hialeah store called Catholica Eh-shop. To my dismay, I resembled a tacky young bride at 12 years old. (Is this some subliminal message to young girls about marriage?) And if that was not enough, your royal highness, wore a crown. Yes! A crown! It’s more painful than I remembered it. But living in a non-Dominican culture, my Mother’s option of a beateous mantilla was obsolete.
In spite of my weekly Communion classes, I had no genuine interest in the subject and remained rather ignorant on the matter. Instead, I was doodling on my black and white composition notebook, (remember those?) sitting in back of the class, as I did in most subjects. It was 8am on a Saturday morning! Can you blame me? I mean, that was torture and B-O-R-I-N-G! I would have much rather be home, in my room, absorbed in the latest Babysitter’s Club book, pretending I too lived in Stonybrook. What can I say? I mean, “one God in three persons?” Forgive me for being obtuse, but can you please explain that to me again? Or better yet, may I go home now? I of course said all this in my mind. Instead, I sat there and completed the class as expected. It was merely tradition, nothing more, nothing less. Communion was something I had to do and not understanding or really caring about it, I held no opposition and felt no closer of a bond with Jesus.
As I entered my teenage years, I had a selfish and somewhat perturbed interest in proceeding with Catholicism. At 13, the Cinderella story had to be my destiny. If I was to ever marry in a Catholic church, I had to get confirmed. In retrospect, I’m not certain why that was consequential at that point in my life. Why did I feel the need to take the step to secure my path in such a fickle institution, where I would soon have no faith in?
I received my confirmation at 14 and adopted my Mother’s name. Though the practice is to adopt the name of a Saint, the only protector and guide for me was my Mother. And even after all that, I still felt no closer to Jesus nor did it render my bond with the Church. How could it? I did not understand what Jesus wanted from me. How could I have a substantial relationship with someone I could not see, hear? In other words, I did not comprehend the concept of Faith. Rules after rules were inculcated in me with fear that if I was to go astray from these commandments, I would be punished by God and would only have atonement if I prayed at the very least ten Hail Marys. But that did not rattle me because I was very comfortable at not following the rules. I was a deviant, the one that did not walk the straight line. Remember? So when reading these rules, some, not all, were…well..a little over the top to say the least. What if I didn’t agree with all of them? What if I still don’t? “You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,” (huh? I thought jealousy was bad for healthy relationships) but I pray and bow my head to the Virgen de Altagracia (Dominican Republic’s avatar of the Virgin Mary, the patron Saint), Kali, Ganesha, and when I see Them, the day I finally make my way to Greece, I will pray to Aphrodite and Athena too. As a matter of fact, I pray to any form of God/Goddess in any religion. Be it Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, etc. This is not confusion. Each religious relic has a sense of sacredness. So why not respect that and if possible, open your heart and embrace it all.
Late in my teenage years, I walked away from it all. And it did not start with the sound of a trumpet cuing some kind of announcement, or banners that read, “I quit!” Nor did I engage in the bell, book, and candle ceremony. I didn’t take drastic measures like succumb to blasphemy or throw away my religious relics. I loved the Cross too much and still do. I did not steal, lie, or cheat. After all, I did have an innate moral compass. I didn’t make a stance against the church by relinquishing my visitation rights. Actually, I never attended church. I didn’t attend church on Sundays, or on Christmas Eve. Nor did I ring in the New Year at church, simply because that was not how we were raised. My decision was personal as well as subtle. -And not that it was a secret either. It was simple, when asked what religion I belonged to, I no longer said Catholic. It was nothing personal against the religion, it was about me. I cannot deny how great it felt to make such an adult-like decision at that age. I felt like the shackles were removed from my feet.
It’s okay to change your long held strong beliefs.
In those years I questioned God’s existence. I am sure many of us have trodden on this walk of doubt. I am feeling somewhat grotesque admitting that to you, the one reading this, mostly out of shame. (Forgive me God for I was lost as a Bitter seed started to grow inside my heart) I didn’t understand Him and I was averse to all the man-made rules the Catholic Church had, (as do all religions). –Actually I still am. Although my Communion teachers and Confirmation teachers praised Him, I was unable to just because I was told to do so. I suppose, in hindsight, I wanted to love a God not because I was conditioned to do so, but out of my own will and faith. I wanted to believe independently. I wanted to really believe in Him without the influence of those around me. So I bade a good riddance to Catholicism and everything and anything that came with it.
On that path I neglected to do anything that would bring me closer to Him. Though when He did come to mind, I questioned if He was actually a She. – And why not? I’m sure this causes some discordance in the hearts of the devout. And the next revelation may rattle you further, causing you to lose sleep tonight. Even now, I continue to believe that God may just well be a Goddess. So what does that mean for the misogynistic preaching? Well gentlemen, your all powerful deity is a Woman. How’s that for a myocardial infarction? Though whether God or Goddess, bears no influence on my love and loyalty to whoever is up there.
It was many years before I found Faith again and it was all due to the Buddha.
However, it was not an easy journey. It was filled with misconceptions and questions, while observing religious and moral contradictions. -And I wasn’t necessarily in search of it either. It sort of just found me. Things just did not coincide with my perception of religion or a religion. Did you know that the Catholic Church is the wealthiest institution on earth? Hey Vatican! Wasn’t the founder, Jesus, the poorest of the poor and remained content with it? This was a display of true humility. That says a lot about the person who is up there, while all the while the Pope and Bishops walk around adorned in gold. However, the Dalai Lama, wears a simple robe, which is a reflection of his vow to a simple life, but he’s been caught on camera wearing a yellow gold rolex. Hmmm. These aren’t necessarily higher spiritual ideals. Isn’t the primary idea of Buddhism based on denouncement of material pleasures? Buddha was a king who left everything!
Today if you asked me what religion I belong to, I would say that I do not belong to any particular religion and I don’t want to either. I have never had that in me. I lack the discipline and patience. Bowing down and being on my knees for longer than a few seconds makes me restless. Too much labeling and restrictions come with organized religion.
I believe and or embrace too many things to belong and be constrained to just one. I believe in the Buddhist philosophy, while simultaneously having a personal and close relationship with a Goddess/God or Goddesses/Gods, which personify a multitude of religions . Those relationships are a work in progress. I seek spiritual depth, inherent Truth. And I don’t think that’s a sense of ambiguity on my behalf or lack of identity. It’s all a part of my spiritual growth. I believe in Saints, Buddha, Jesus, Ram, Shiva, Krishna, and Allah, along with the several hundred thousand avatars in Hinduism. The Muslim prayer, Kalima provides me an incommunicable sense of peace. The Star of David I find mystical and hypnotic. So you see, I can’t make an unconditional commitment and submit to an established Religion. I choose free will instead. In my heart of hearts, I believe in co-existing of all religions.
While religion remains a cynosure for some, the North Star which guides them, I’m in search for my constellation of spirituality.