My tour group was about to embark on a voyage inside the Old City of Jerusalem, and I was on the verge of my greatest spiritual awakening. Before heading into the city, our group huddled outside the bus. One of the leaders of the trip began to outline a plan for our religion intensive day in Jerusalem, and said some other anecdotes that I’ve since forgotten. We were in the middle of our trip, and I was simply exhausted and a bit out of sorts that morning. My attention happened to focus in when he said something along the lines of, “People have debates and don’t agree on particular aspects of religion, or about whether there is a higher power. There are countless beliefs. However, it is impossible to deny the impact that religion has had on our world. We all have to agree that religion has sparked charitable service, spurred war, and changed the course of our history forever. That is simply undeniable.”
That afternoon, as we visited the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I desperately wanted to have some kind of grand awakening and feel some type of higher power. I wanted a religious experience and for things to grandly make sense in my head. In reality though, my feet were aching after days of walking and I felt my jet lag catching up to me. As I walked along the cobbled roads in the Old City, dragging my feet and my eyes heavy, the idea our leader said earlier kept spiraling into my thoughts. People can dispute religion all they want, but the impact religion has had on our history is undeniable. Religion is a force behind communities developing and deteriorating, the creation of schools in Colonial America, and cultural normatitives across the world. Whether we are religious or not, or practice the same faith, religion is an integral part of our humanity, and that we can’t deny.
My spiritual awakening was not about finding answers to my faith questions, or becoming a devout believer. In all honesty, it was the exact opposite. My experiences in Jerusalem made me realize that I really don’t know what I personally believe, and I’m not sure I ever will. Instead of negotiating in my head what is right or wrong for me to believe, I am much more interested in how religion influences individual lives and our society at whole. I want to study the impact religion has had on the course of our world’s history but also the history of individuals. I saw religion and faith more in the actual people I encountered and engaged with, than the holy places I visited. I’ve decided to turn my attention to educating myself on the religious forces at play in people’s lives, instead of seeking debatable answers. How has religion played a role in shaping you into who you are today?