Finding faith

Sunday, April 17, 2011

 Betis Church (Pampanga, Philippines),
by Frances Beldia
From the age of seven until I was about 25, I’m guessing I must have prayed the traditional Catholic devotion called the rosary approximately 365 times. Many times for small-time swearing in grade school, one hundred times for the failed attempts to cut class in high school; the other hundred times to accomplish what the nuns had required me to do, and the 365 I may have prayed in wakes of people to whom I may or may not have an affinity.

I grew up in a family that believed post-death episodes eventually led to two obvious directions: heaven or hell. As I was growing up though, I started to ponder on the fact that there had to be a place for people who were not comfortable with the resolute two-way ride to either Nirvana or to the infernal regions. The afterlife as a pleasant destiny was a thought that made me quite happy. My indefatigable (satirical, friends insist) liking for anything that involved humanity; its psyche, the way it thrives on emotional strength, its understanding of faith, sent me out on a momentous journey. So even if my destiny was yet a hazy part of a future episode of my life, I wanted to find out what prayers were like outside my walls.

When I left home for college, I started meeting people from different religious orientations. All the more I was convinced that the greater world away from home had so many things to present for my learning. I became more acquainted with what inner peace meant and how wonderfully it could work for me. Part of that learning began with the acceptance that working towards inner peace was a process one had to constantly strive for—and the more I worked towards it, the more I yearned to spread more kindness and love. It made me feel like a champion in the midst of college life chaos. My journey began to unravel more questions and it wasn’t always finding the answers that mattered but the hunt for them that kept me awake on long nights.
From that divine discovery, I slipped further to the germane truth that it is faith, not religion, that fed the soul. At that point, I was already far from attendance slips in my local church and the constant prodding by people around me to willingly bear the burden that life brought so I could be deserving of that one way trip to heaven. Their nonchalance made me feel like they were simply asking me to choose decaf over espresso (a constant conflict of preference between coffee aficionados and those who just drink them) to be awarded with a pricey latte later on for obedience. The whole scene as I went through it in my head was simply bad drama. I have always believed that life is one tall mug of good latte.

The best thing that the freedom from dominating religious views ever gave me was silence. It taught me to slow down, appreciate happenstance in the universe and to listen with humility. I learned to listen to other people’s ideas about what might be a good life without prejudice. Different people believe in different ways of getting to heaven or elsewhere—with purpose and grace, however never in haste.
I have prayed with people from different religious affiliations. I have prayed prayers I’ve never heard before, and prayers that were spontaneous. I have laughed and cried while praying which defined my weakness as a human being; acknowledging my need for The One who rules the Moon and everything around me. I no longer absent-mindedly recite memorized verses, but have meaningful conversations with Someone who knows me better than I can ever know myself.

Accepting that kind of understanding into my life enlightened me. Faith is not a composite of prayer. The truth presented itself so beautifully that it’s impossible now to believe that heaven has an opposite direction.
Once in a while, traditions, being an integral part of my childhood, would come back to me in forms of beautiful memories and I relive them with ardor. But I know better now than to say, “I’m the only one who’s right.”

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