“Elijan, Aaron and Jason – Choosers of Religions”

I STARED at the tiled wall in front of me briefly, shook my gloves off my hands, and carefully placed them at the edge of the sink on the marble counter. Deeply inhaled, turned around and announced, “The dishes can wait.”

I sat my 14 year old son, Aaron down, holding his hands, I told him, “What do you want dear?”

Question me an answer; answer with a question” (From the musical “Shangri-La, The Lost Horizon”).Isn’t that what they say is the best way to reply? In my situation, that came as the ONLY answer I could give.

I knew then and there that I will have to face his question one way or the other in the future, perhaps from other people and more times that I would ever care to reply.

His question: “Mom, what is my religion?”

You see, Aaron’s dad is Buddhist; I, his mom, was previously Roman Catholic and embraced Islam in 2011 after years of learning and discernment.

Aaron and his siblings were baptised in the Catholic faith. The children with the exception of Aaron have their leanings on Islam with their mother’s influence and perhaps mainly due to peer associations as the family lives in a Muslim dominated country.

It’s not only Aaron’s nucleus family that is multi-faith. His Portuguese great-grandmother, Theodora, was a Buddhist convert, formerly a Catholic. He has a formerly Buddhist uncle in Sri Lanka who is now a very pious Catholic Christian after he won his battle against a life threatening disease.

His mother’s family (mine), on the other hand is a happy communion of a very pious Catholic sister, a brother who is the Artistic Director of a Jewish Summer Camp in the United States, a brother married to a “Dating-daan” Christian denomination, a brother who is an active member of Victory (Christian Church), a nephew who married and is now a member of the “Iglesia ni Cristo” Christian movement, and now we are eagerly and proudly awaiting the ordination of a Catholic seminarian nephew, son of my cousin Regina.

Aaron was born a month after his cousin, Elijan – son of a very pleasant woman, extremely patient and a truly religious Dating-daan member, Anna, my lovely sister-in-law. My brother remains a Catholic and Elijan goes to a Catholic school despite being an active learner of the teachings and ways of his mother’s religion.

I always wondered how confusing it must be for Elijan to comprehend and/or absorb two very different perhaps conflicting Christian methods of worship and apply them to his daily life. Which ones does the boy truly accept and which passes one ear and out through the other? I was feeling worried for him but when I look at my nephew, he seems to know where to put his heart on; at least to me. What goes on in his mind really, only he knows.

Aaron and Elijan both spent their early childhood in Dubai. The 3rd boy who is their contemporary is my husband’s godchild, Jason. He is the son of a Catholic mother and a Hindu father, both are our very close friends, hence the choice for my Buddhist husband as godfather in a very important Catholic sacrament, the Baptism.

It may be noted that a lot of Catholic Christians honour and strengthen relationship bonds by making one a godparent for one’s child/children.

Sometimes it even serves as a display of gratitude. Some may say that this defeats the purpose of having godparents in Christian sacraments like, Baptism, Confirmation and Matrimony

At my age and varied cultural exposure, despite my curiosity, I have learned not to question people’s ways, especially those that have religious and/or cultural basis. I quench my thirst for knowledge tempered with understanding that we are creatures of differences and possible compromises; of relative acceptance of each other dependent on various circumstances.

Going back to Jason, I was extremely impressed when at lunch at my place one Friday, the boy refused to eat meat! The Christendom was entering Lenten Season at the time, and this 13 year old boy was literally religious about abstaining from eating meat! He was also very regretful about missing his catechism class that day.

Jason’s Confirmation was in 2 weeks at the time. He looked well prepared to receive the sacrament.

I was trying to think of what meaningful gift I could give Jason as I know in my heart being a former Catholic that Confirmation is a very important event, more so, evidently, in a child, like Jason. The irony of it is the realisation that there is no gift worthy of this boy, because his pious ways and faithfulness to God is a gift to all believers of any denomination. He sets an example that truly, the seed of “Faith” can blossom in a child’s heart and be understood at an early stage of life.

Because, religion, like most things in individual human development, presents itself differently to those who accept it; there are early learners and late bloomers.

Religion may be something one is born with and lives with happily and faithfully.

It could also be something some people find to be leading them to questions that eventually take them to another path or religion where they believe they could find the truth they seek for or closest to it.

Perhaps, even, one’s religion is akin to one’s comfort zone… a home of like ways and minds in the worship of one’s accepted Creator. A community where one feels a sense of belongingness.

Others even contest the need for religion.

It may matter so much to others what creed they follow; some have stringent rules and practices that may seem questionable, unacceptable even, to those outside such faiths.

There are those on the other hand who practice their faiths as individual and as personal as they may be allowed.

Others seek to bridge the gap between denominations. I count myself as one and I know I am not alone.

This is one of my humble attempts in fulfilling my “self-proclaimed” mission: To reach out to the younger generation of different faiths and/or religions.

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Dear Elijan,

During family get-together, there’s the usual banter about your Kuya Arnel and Ate Jheng being Iglesia ni Cristo members and your mom being a Dating-Daan follower. We are fortunate that we are able to joke about it (unlike what we read and hear about the two Christian denominations being against each other most of the time), as far as I know, no one takes offence in our family, we respect and we still love each other no matter how different we say our prayers and worship our Creator. I always pray for the end in misunderstandings and violence due to religious differences; there is hope because there are the likes of your mom and Kuya Arnel who wouldn’t say a nasty word to each other, much more hurt anyone deliberately because they have opposing views in faith.

Son, don’t let anyone make you believe otherwise. We don’t need to be one or the other; we can be at peace with each other however different we are in many ways.

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Dear Aaron,

Son, I remain and will always maintain that you, my children should have the freedom to choose your own path, whether it’s something one might find trivial as to what passport you should carry or what name you should call your Creator. I call mine Allah, I am a Muslim.

I shall open the doors of Islam for you with my example and my ways; no arm-twisting, no coercion, no dagger and no buying you, just so you follow what I believe in.

Be free but be fair, be dutiful and be just. Love and respect humans and their humanity for this is the basis of all religions. Religion, my son, to me is a gift from Allah (God), a gift of guidance to a path back to our Giver. A gift designed in varied shapes and colors so as to suit its equally varied recipients. Find the gift that matches you and blossom with it. The hand of Allah will guide you; the love of Mom and Dad will always be there for you.

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Dear Jason,

I looked at you and thought, “No trace of Hinduism on this child, he is all Catholic, way to go Mommy Maricel!”

I admire your mom’s devotion to her faith, and your dad’s love for you and your whole family.

You see, son, your dad is one of the estimated 1 billion Hindus worldwide (the 3rd largest religion in terms of followers after Christianity and Islam). It doesn’t make your dad weak in faith that you are in fact a Catholic. It is the strong Hindu in him that he didn’t stand against you becoming what he thinks you want to be. He embraces what he must be thinking is your “dharma” (Sanskrit, in this context, meaning one’s destiny or purpose). By doing so, he fulfils his own dharma and is repaying one of his karmic debts – the debt to other human beings; repaid by treating them with respect. In this case, his wife’s ways and his son’s choice of faith even if it is not his.

In a few days, you will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and that marks that you are not only born to the faith of your mother, despite your dad having a different religion, you are choosing and affirming to be a Catholic Christian.

I am wrong Jason, it is not true that you do not have a trace of Hinduism in you.vJust like your dad, you too are fulfilling your dharma and repaying your karmic debt – the debt to parents.

May you find peace and contentment, enlightenment where you might require.

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Aaron, Elijan, Jason… and all the other “children” who may chance upon this writing; you may or may not have your heart fixed on the religion you inherited somehow, or is served on a platter in front of you awaiting your decision; whatever you choose to follow or believe in, follow it with your heart, but don’t let it blind you. After all religions, whichever it is you faithfully adhere to means well and are not supposed to harm anyone. Religions teach of kindness and respect to all creations.

The Dalai Lama of Tibet, in an interview, was asked what he thinks is the best religion; he replied, “The best religion is the one that gets you closest to God; it is the one that makes you a better person.”

Don’t we all feel the same biting cold in winter? The same scorching heat in summer? The same loneliness and longing when left alone inasmuch as fullness and comfort, happiness and elation in joyous occasions? We all react in similar manner for we are all humans. Humans of different faiths and ways but of comparable needs and weaknesses.

We may be of different religions but we must find ways to live with each other in peace; let’s start with respect, compassion and responsibility regardless of how pious or what religious background the one in front of us belongs to… then perhaps love will find its way in all our hearts.

 

                                                                 

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