When I was a little kid, my mom would have to drag my sister and I to put on our itchy, uncomfortable, but beautiful Salwaar Kameez (traditional Indian wear) to go to the temple. I didn’t want to, but I was forced to. I never knew what to do there. Every time, we would go stand before one of the deities, put our hands together and close our eyes, copying what my mom would do; she would tell us to pray, yet I stood there with a blank mind. I couldn’t understand the importance of faith and religion; to me all it meant was celebrating holidays with a party, going to the temple during our religious observances and going through the motions of praying without a connection to god. It wasn’t till high school through my Hindu youth group, Balvihar, that inspired me to think of religion in a way that made sense to me, enabling me to find that connection.
During my sophomore year, it was time to think about some of the most pressing decisions of my life, like what and where I wanted to study for college, and what career I wanted to pursue. It was a lot of pressure, and I felt completely lost. I thought back to something that my youth group emphasized, that god is within each and every one of us, and we should use that not only to better ourselves, but also to benefit the greater world and communities around us. I was able to apply that to my own life, understand my faith at a personal level, and add meaning to the prayers my mom made me learn.
Now when I would go to the temple, or even at home with the mini shrine in my bedroom, I could put my hands together, close my eyes and my mind wasn’t blank anymore. It was filled with prayers asking god to give me hope and confidence in the face of the obstacles of that day, week or month. This new-found realization gave me the tools to take god with me wherever I go. To me god isn’t distant, but something I have within me, and can reach wherever I am. Even being miles away from home, I can sit either in my college apartment or in a cramped lecture hall, close my eyes, and have a quick conversation with god.
Those Sunday mornings spent with my youth group taught me more about myself and this world than I’d ever expected. God, religion, and faith are there to have something to believe in, because everyone needs and deserves these to push them to strive for their goals, face their fears and make sense of the world. I believe that it is this common goal of finding something to believe in that can unite us. As Americans, we focus so much on the ways we are different, and though that is important, it is vital that we find ways to connect and bring unity to our communities. This is the importance of interfaith, and the reason I was inspired to get involved in it throughout high school and now again in college. Each and every religion, faith and culture is there to give people something to believe in; the specifics are unique to each group or individual but why we believe in it is for the same reasons, and that is what should be emphasized to help bring communities closer together.
Have there been practices or traditions you learned as a kid, but which didn’t make sense until you were older? How have you found the strength to strive for your goals and face your fears?