Explorations into the religious unknown

An Essay By Christa // 9/23/2007

On my bookshelf, right in front of me as I type, there is my treasured bible from my childhood, worn, bookmarked and doggy-eared, but getting dusty. Next to it is an English interpretation of the Koran (the Koran can’t actually be translated, so instead I have: The Meaning of the Glorious Koran). This is not a very worn text – I’ve opened it a few times but I have never digested it. Next to the translated Koran is: A Simple Guide to Hinduism. This is only slightly more worn than the Koran. And next to my Hinduism guide is (don’t laugh): The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Catholicism. And getting further away from easy grasping distance are various religious texts and class books with bright colored campus “USED” labels on the bindings, obscuring the titles and authors.
The reason I bring up my texts is to point out that I have a very diverse group of friends, all more or less religious in their own ways. When we first met as undergraduates in college, our discussions and debates about religion focused on different religious practices and core beliefs. We shared texts and beliefs and cultures. It was never a debate of who was right or wrong, but rather a coming together of different ideas, morals, and tenets.
Now, however, my college friends are spread around the country. I find myself missing the learning we shared – but instead of learning I am now wading through my own religious beliefs and faiths. And it is inward rather than outward I now gaze. What is right for me? What is wrong for me? Whereas before, religion and culture and faith were one and the same, I now find myself differentiating between “religion” and “faith” and “culture.”
Perhaps this is an elementary distinction for my knowledgeable readers. But I find as I get older the need to make an egocentric declaration of “me” and “I”. I find myself pulling away from doing what I have always done, because of family and up bringing and environment, and starting on a new path to enlightenment. I find myself packing up these dusty texts, wearing in a new pair of thinking boots (painful at first, but nothing’s as perfect as that worn-in pair of shoes, right?), and setting off on a new trail, blazing a new path. I map out the different trails; what I do for culture’s sake (celebrating Christmas) from what I do for religious’ sake (marriage) from what I do for my faith’s sake (my personal belief in God).
My immediate family doesn’t understand my need to see the unknown, the need to do my own thing. My parents have already found their path, and they know it is the right one. Why not stay on that path with them? And this, no doubt, is the easiest path to follow because it is already worn in and smooth. There are few rocks to trip me up. I’d have my parent’s protective wings keeping the unknown from harming me. But this protection – so valuable in childhood! – is now restrictive and confining. In my mind the ground is dusty and worn, nothing new and green grows on the path. I see greener pastures elsewhere and my path branches off.
The greatest challenge is the unknown; perhaps even more so when the unknown is your own mind. Wish me luck on my journey. At the moment the sun is shining, the breeze is gently gusting, and although there is no end destination in sight I am confident the journey will be a worthy one.