"I was raised predominantly a Methodist, but I have traveled so much, mixed with so many people in all parts of the world, I don't know just what I am. I know I have never been a non-believer. But I can honestly tell you that I don't think that any one religion is the religion." - Will Rogers
I was raised Southern Baptist, and my dad - he was a Southern Baptist minister. That makes me the daughter of a preacher's man. As a result of my father's profession, my family went to church every Wednesday night for dinner and fellowship, every Sunday morning for Sunday School and Big Church, and every Sunday afternoon for youth group and choir practice. I spent so much time at church that I figured I would grow up to be a minister just like my dad. It might have happened had I not started to question my Christian faith around the age of 17. After starting university, I became less interested in church and more curious about the world outside of church.
When I lived in India ten years ago, I interacted with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. I traveled to holy places like Tibet, Amritsar, Varanasi and Dharamsala. I went to Buddhist monasteries, Sikh gurdwaras, mosques, Hindu temples and the holy Ganges river. I was drawn to all the rituals I witnessed in each religion and spiritual place, but when I stepped foot in a Christian church in Delhi, something felt different. The church had everything from the churches I belonged to during my childhood - a Baptismal pool, crosses, stained glass windows, hymnals, a pulpit and pews. It was the one holy place in India where I instantly felt a sense of home.
When I returned to live in Gainesville, I visited several churches but ultimately felt more connected to Buddhism. I felt most connected spiritually during that time. It's difficult to describe that feeling, but it just felt right. So, I honored that connection and spent quite a bit of time exploring the philosophies of the Buddhist faith and allowed myself to sink in to the rituals of meditation and the Buddhist teachings.
Several years later, when I left Gainesville to join the Foreign Service and lived in Washington for a year, during the Christmas season, I went to see Handel's Messiah at the National Cathedral. As soon as the music began, I instantly felt a similar connection to home. So many memories of my family and our Christmas rituals flooded my mind and heart. There were moments where the music almost brought me to tears. In May of last year, I traveled to Georgia and Armenia and visited many monasteries and cathedrals. When I stepped inside the tiny, 6th century Jvari Monastery, I felt that same feeling of home. A woman was singing hymns in Georgian a cappella, and it was one of the strongest connections to home I had felt since that time in Delhi when I stepped in that Christian church. A week later in Armenia, when I walked around Geghard Monastery and heard a beautiful choir singing hymns in Armenian a cappella, I also felt at home, a sense of peace. Their beautiful music carried through the entire monastery and again flooded my heart and almost dropped me to my knees.
For a while after my trip to the Caucasus, I had mistaken these feelings of home to wondering if I still believed in God in the Christian sense; however, I realized recently that it is not because of a belief in God in the Christian sense. It's because being in a church gives me a sense of deep connection to my family. When I live far away, it's easy to long for what feels most familiar. For me, that familiarity is a church because it was home to me for the first 17 years of my life. We left a few different cities and towns during my childhood, but church and its rituals was a constant. No matter who congregated in these different churches, the rituals were always familiar. My family and I spent a lot of time and energy partaking in these rituals together. There was always prayer, Sunday School, Big Church, lighting candles at the Christmas Eve services while singing Silent Night, youth group and communion. It makes sense to me now that a church would logically be the one place where I feel connected most to my family.
I'm grateful for having grown up in a home where I could develop faith, even if my sense of faith has evolved beyond the walls of a church. That childhood faith and the rituals will forever connect to me to my family, no matter where I am. It's comforting to know that if I feel disconnected from home, all I need to do to feel connected again is to step inside a church.