Religion used to be a definitive part of my life. I was following the rules or I wasn’t. I was accepting God’s love or I wasn’t. I was respectful to people of all religions. My religion wasn’t worse or better than others. But I was raised Roman Catholic and I was raised to adhere to the tenets of that religion.
Early on, though, I started to question how people lived their faith every day, myself included. To my 7 year old self, who was still trying to figure out what the priest was saying in the Latin mass as my father reached over to turn pages to keep me on track, I wondered why people seemed so holy during mass, and so angry in the parking lot.
The expression wasn’t used at the time, but road rage was the r’aison d’être in the basketball court-now-parking lot. Everyone juggled for the front row of spaces so they could whiz out of Church the minute it was over. Perhaps my father was the worst with this. He practically dragged me to the car as the last Amen was said, and went nose-to-nose to beat the next guy out of the parking lot. Horns honking, cars swerving around each other, accidents barely averted, expletives muttered and “peace be to people on earth.”
In high school, I really started to question religion. What was so different about the Protestant faiths and Catholicism? Did God, at the beginning of time, or Jesus Christ at the beginning of the before and after time of Christianity, think wow, I’m going to steer all people towards a one and only faith and then have them argue over it and fight wars over it and kill over it, just so that in America everyone has a different building to go to on Saturday or Sunday mornings? Ahhhh…..doubt it.
But my doubts really surfaced as I began to learn more about Native American and Alaskan cultural heritage. I was born in Alaska, and the idea of being so closely allied to nature, to the fact that our agriculture, our seasons, the tide, sharing this planet with animals of the land and the sea appeal to me at a gut level. That God created our planet to nurture and honor all living things with respect, was not against the religion I was raised in, but tangential to it. That misuse of religious ideas was the fault of man and not God.
This photo was purchased by my grandmother during a visit with us in Alaska. The caption is a century old Inuit church and graveyard. However, you will notice that the graves are marked with Russian Orthodox crosses, showing the Christian influence that started with the Russians “owning” Alaska. And this photo is from the early 1950s, which, if accurately captioned, makes the church/graveyard from the 1850s.
In college, I attended a Seder and was shocked at how drawn I was to the service. The similarities between the Seder service and the Catholic mass made me feel at home. I think it was the pomp and circumstance, the ancient and rich traditions that clicked with me. This added another dimension to my religion dilemma. After all, Christianity is based on the Judeo-Christian tradition.
And then came my involvement with the Kichwa of Ecuador and Kichwa Hatari of New York. Again, a religious tradition of a people whose existence depends on the seasons, on the agriculture and animals of their region, on respect for the Mama Pacha and how we have to honor God by respecting the earth. I don’t pretend to know much about these traditions of faith, and I’m not sure that I’m articulating these beliefs accurately, but I’m learning. kichwa hatari inti raymi
Perhaps it is best to describe myself as spiritual, rather than religious. I am a spiritually flawed person, but try to live my life by the Ten Commandments, by respecting others and this planet upon which we live.
I believe that our spirit or soul lives on in a different form that I choose to call Heaven. And I believe that my daughter and my grandmother will be the first to greet me when I arrive there.