Matthew 19:14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
I’ve never been able to understand the deity who takes attendance every Sunday.
When I was younger, I would eagerly rush to church, almost every chance I could. This I did, for two reasons. The first was so that I could get to play with the few friends that I had in the basketball in the Friary. The second was that one of the Brothers in the Friary would let my friends and I pluck gooseberries from the green, green garden behind the church. On certain momentous occasions, we were also allowed to pet and play with the pets on campus. I sometimes wondered why we never got to see the same pig twice, but then got distracted with the abundance of gooseberries in the little black leather bag that my father had gifted me. Somewhere in my mind, lingered the sweet smell of pork vindaloo. I remember people speaking of a deity, and statues all around, but never actually got around to sitting down and doing a little research. After all, if I did any work, what would I do in the catechism lessons?
At the age of 10, I religiously joined the group of altar servers with my peers. We would fight to see who got to serve for the masses during the coming week. We were, in our opinion, just as important as the priests celebrating mass. We got to carry the chalices and cups containing the unblessed blessed sacrament, and also sang along with the choir. We got to ring the bell during the Eucharistic celebration, and sometimes even got to adjust the fan for the priest preaching at the altar. It also had the added benefit of the red and white outfits that made us look like St. Peter’s assistants.
The first four years that I spent in catechism classes primarily consisted of learning up prayers with words that were either too big, or too complicated for me to understand. I’m both proud and ashamed, about the fact that I still haven’t taken the time to understand the prayers that I religiously chanted for many, many years. Proud, because I don’t want to say something I don’t know about in its entirety. Most prayers came from specific events or occurrences that led to their existence. They meant something back then, but in most cases, have lost their significance. I feel ashamed because I feel like I’ve abandoned the Lord I was taught to love and fear. I’m still not sure about the beliefs I have, and what my religion means to me.
It wasn’t until I’d reached the seventh grade, that I had learned that ‘praying’ simply meant ‘speaking to God’. We were encouraged to come up prayers of our own, and many of us required quite a push to actually articulate our feelings in being frank towards a God we were always told to fear. When I finally got around to doing it, I wasn’t sure if was to pray out of love, devotion, or fear. This came after a year of my catechism teachers from the previous year made us sing hymns of their own, with tunes so jaded, even Lucifer begged for something different.
I listened to priests pray for peace, but they weren’t praying. They were reading out of a pre-prepared paper. Where was the truth in that? I could never tell if they really cared. Did they?
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God belonged to childlike hearts. What do you do when people take away that very heart?
John 13:34: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
At the young age of ten, while I struggled to discover the ways of the God I was destined to worship, I was also exposed to the hierarchy within the church. Masses were divided according to the languages popularly spoken by the parishioners, as were the catechism classes. It didn’t take me long to notice the fact that there was barely any interaction between the parishioners from the various languages. The few people that did mix along, either came from the altar service group, the choirs that sung together on some occasions, or the members of the church youth group. It took me a very long time to actually mingle the way I do now, and that mostly comes out of my experiences with the altar service group, the choirs and the members of the church youth group. I learned to actively use the languages that I had learned over time, from the bits and pieces of conversation that I came across and learned that differences come from personality and not where a person comes from.
When I was thirteen, I discovered the gay pride parades and the drives held towards bettering the lives of the LGBT community in the country, and all over the world. What I also learned, is that the heaven that claimed to open its gates to the people who were good, refuses to let in the people that God created, because they were just not like everyone else. I always believed that being ‘good’, came out of the kindness of your heart and the care that one shows towards another individual. It came out of our need to help the helpless, and take away any pain we came across. But clearly, I was wrong.
A little later, the rape rates in the country went up, there was an increase in the number of murders, Syria broke out in Civil War, and people suffered and died. I didn’t know what the Lord had in store for the world, and I still don’t. People suffered, and it was merely shunned away as God punishing people for their sins. What kind of a God punished women and children with rape? What kind of God punishes people with murder and war? I heard about the predictions for the end of the world, and yet it didn’t end.
I was told that I counted as a Gentile. I wasn’t one of the ‘chosen ones’. I wasn’t from the tribe that constantly rejected the God who gave a mortal to part the Red Sea for them. I wasn’t special, but I was asked to believe anyway. Are we not taken care of because we aren’t the chosen ones?
The world was then blessed with Pope Francis. The first non-European Pope. The first Pope to have a Twitter and Instagram account. He is the first to wash the feet of a group of prisoners on Maundy Thursday, the first to wash the feet of people of all ages and the first to wash the feet of refugees of different races and religions. In terms of what the church has been through and the atrocities it had brought out over the ages, he is the first to actually attempt to make amends. It is also in the same decade, that I am encountered with Principals and teachers, both quite religious, who question a student’s values and culture because she was sitting among a group of boys. Was she doing anything obscene? No. Was she breaking a rule? No. Then why was she condemned?
It wasn’t until my first year in college that I learned of the fact that the gospels weren’t written at the same time. In fact, they were written ages after Christ’s time, decades apart from each other- each adhering to its own theme. It was also the same year that I found out about the fact that almost every ritual we have, came from other religions. For example, the Pentecost was a Jewish feast, on a full moon. We celebrate Easter on the day of the Pentecost when there is a full moon. The church has over two thousand years of problems to amend, with the current Pope is working towards it. And yet, I find people condemning his every move. He washed the feet of refugees who weren’t Christian. Guess who else wasn’t Christian? Every one of the twelve disciples.
Jesus told us that everyone deserves to be treated as one would treat themselves. We don’t do it. And I fear to understand why.
John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
When I was fifteen, I discovered the church chapel. It was a place of patience, a place of hope. The warmth of the air in the chapel contrasted with the cold floor, where I sat, a little away from the altar. Somehow, somewhere, I found comfort in the idea of being able to speak to God without a barrier. I was in church- so someone speaking to the air couldn’t possibly be the weirdest thing around.
I never managed to understand the sermons during mass that took on the shape of a public rant, or the telling of jaded jokes with morals that sometimes didn’t have even the remotest resemblance to the readings of the day.
Over time, I realized that I what learned in those hours of silence- things about God, things about myself- they were things I couldn’t have learned or understood anywhere else. When I joined college, I found a similar comfort in the college chapel. It is where I go when I feel lost. Because somehow, in talking to God, or in talking to myself, I find a way out of the pain and troubles I face.
In a church chapel, I feel safe. I’m not exposed, like in the high arches and gargantuan altars of a church. I’m surrounded by architecture as old as the church, but it doesn’t judge me the same. I’m free of the looks I get for a flaw in my outfit, for the way I sometimes falter when I walk. I could burst into tears, and I wouldn’t have people looking at me like I deserve to be in an asylum.
There is a feeling like home in those chapel walls- a feeling of love and care. A feeling that tells me that I have someone near, someone who hears my plea. It is here that I learned that if I really truly asked for something, I would get it. I find a sense of comfort in the unknown. These feelings could be a result of the culture I was raised in, or simply the need to have a higher presence that I could trust in, even when I thought that I have no one.
Over the years, I have come to learn, condemn and admire things about the church. I’m beginning to get a basic understanding of the way things work. I will be eternally grateful to my theology professor from last year because he showed us that religion is an amalgamation of various factors that can sometimes go astray. He showed me, that God is love. Not fear.
I learned that sometimes, there is a set method to things. These methods may be highly disorganized by their very nature, but are maintained for the perceived need of the hour. Questioning things does help. But in that process of questioning, one must also be willing to find an answer. I still don’t know why we face the troubles we do today. I don’t understand why a God who “so loved the world, that he (us) gave his only Son”, would watch us suffer and punish the innocent with the pain they never deserved in the first place. One could argue, that the degree of suffering could be attributed to how far we’ve come as members of the human race, but the question of the need to cause suffering still remains.
And yet, I find comfort in the idea of a guardian angel watching over me.
Sometimes, I fear for what the answers to my questions would be. But more often than not, I wish that I was shown how beautiful my religion is rather than taught it, in words and excuses I still can’t comprehend. I will always have a much greater respect for the professors and priests who admit that my religion has its flaws, than those who pretend like the flaws don’t exist.
I still haven’t figured religion out, and wish that I was given the time to do so. I also believe that there are many like me who wish they had the opportunity to do the same.