Thursday, May 11, 2006

Final Paper for Essay Writing Class: My Spiritual Authobiography.

Looking up

As a kid, I would often think about how things would be had I been born in a different family or in a different country. How would it be if I were to look completely different or if I would be different in personality, or how it would be had I not been born at all. Would I exist as a different entity or would I just not be?
These thoughts used to terrify me. The thought of the possibility of not existing would make me anxious and feel trapped in ignorance; I needed some type of explanation of what I was supposed to do in life or the reason I was in that specific place, time, and family. That is why when I heard from someone that there was a God that had created me and had planned my life since before I was born, it all felt right.
I was raised in principles based on the Bible. My father always wanted my mother to get me and my sister involved in some religion; it didn’t matter what it was, he just wanted us to learn about connecting our mind to a higher power in which we could trust and believe in. That’s why I was baptized in the Catholic church as a kid and why my father would take us to mass every now and then, even though he was not a firm believer. My grandpa, my dad’s father, was Catholic; so I think my dad felt some respect for that religion because that’s what he was taught growing up. I don’t know what happened or why, but my dad went through many religions. One of the oddest ones to me was the Sai-Baba faith; which was a group of followers of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, a man from India. I don’t think I quite understood what it was all about, but I remember they cared a lot about inner peace and service. It seemed to me that my dad never took anything as the ultimate truth, so he always looked for ways of growing into a better person. He believed in charity; and church or a religion provided a way of serving others. But that’s just what I believe was going on in his life; we never really talked about it.
My mother also thought church was something good, so she would take us to Sunday school and the services in the Church of Christ whenever we visited my grandmother. My grandma, my mom’s mother, had always been Christian. I think she grew up in the Church of Christ and that’s where she took her children to church; but my mom was never as involved as my grandma in church. When my mom left my grandma’s house and moved to the city to get a job and go to college, she stopped going to church. She didn’t stop believing in God, but she didn’t go to church. Maybe she got lost in transition; in between life in the city with its dangers and responsibilities, and what she had left behind.
Then somehow, my mother, sister, and I finally ended up in a Baptist church near home; after walking by it one Saturday afternoon and being invited to attend the services on Sunday. In that church, I decided to let God be the center of my life. I was almost five when we started attending the services regularly. Much of what I remember growing up is in some way related to that church: friends, games, funny moments, sad experiences, people leaving, people coming into my life. All of a sudden, there was an explanation to the questions that I had; and that made me feel safe.
I developed a relationship with the higher power, the God and Creator of it all, according to the Bible. I would pray and read the Bible consistently, as well as attend church on a regular basis. I remember feeling complete, feeling happy for being friends with the One that had created it all; I wanted to share that feeling with others, and so I would try to get others to come to church with me. I was one of those people that annoy their friends with the fact that they need to come to church, but I did it because having God in my life made me happy and I wanted others to feel the same. I firmly believed that all others who did not accept Jesus as their savior would not go to heaven or have any part of a happy life after death. Once, I tried to tell my dad how he needed Jesus in his life, and he told me all humans have God in their heart; he said there was not only one way. That night I cried. I thought my dad will not go to heaven because he wasn’t willing to let Jesus in his life.
The fact that there seemed to be just certain people chosen by God to be believers, always bothered me. In some Sunday classes and some Bible studies I remember discussing the fact that not all would be saved, because not all were predestined for salvation. In theory, God had given everyone freedom of will, and so only those that chose to believe in God would have any part on the eternal life promised in the Bible. How fair and loving could that be? How fair is it if there are some people that have no access to those specific teachings and knowledge; people such as, let’s say, a small indigenous population in Peru. I always felt there was something wrong with that, because the God that I had gotten to know through my own study of the Bible and my prayers was a loving God that wanted everyone to live life loving and respecting others. The God I had gotten to know could not possibly be exclusive.
And I grew up like that, fearing that my own father and brothers would not have a chance of salvation if they didn’t believe in what I believed. I grew up trying to make them understand that God had a plan for them and He wanted them to love him in return, for I had learned that God loves every human. I worked hard at getting others to believe in my God and my principles, because I was so sure that it was the right way.
But as I lived, I saw how selfish that view is. What is right to me might not be right to others. Then I cannot help but think, what if this is all wrong, everything I’ve believed in? What if another religion has the truth and I’m missing out on that? What if my Mayan ancestors had the one true philosophy but were obliged to believe in the God of their conquistadors? The more I’d visit different places and learn about other cultures, the more I realized that my view was just one more view. I saw the same thing happening within the same religion. Different denominations would argue about different ways of doing things or interpreting the Bible. It got complicated and I suddenly forgot about fulfilling the purpose of God in my life and was worried about what type of instruments were the right ones to use at church, or what type of clothes I should wear on Sundays for the services. Finding out which way was the right way became pointless.
As I lived, I learned about social injustice and I saw things that didn’t make sense to me and made me wonder why God would allow something like that to happen. I first thought about it when I studied about the civil war in my country, El Salvador. Why would God let people die for political reasons, or why would he even allow the corruption that led to the war to begin with? I wanted an explanation, but I wasn’t allowed to make the questions. I was taught one shouldn’t question God and His will, for that’s showing lack of faith. When I studied about the massacres that took place during the war, I felt cheated; so many people died for reasons that just didn’t seem important enough. Why would God allow it? Why would he allow so many unnecessary murders to occur?
Faith is to believe in something even when one is not able to see it. As time passed and I witnessed injustice in reality, faith started to seem like a resource to use when everything else has failed. When the government has failed its people, when the poor are dying for lack of resources, when there is no way around a situation; then one needs to have faith. To me, it all seemed convenient; when one cannot help a situation, then there is nothing left but to believe it all will be fine at the end because something bigger and more powerful will act on the situation.
Another thing that has had an impact on me is death. I learned that there is life after death for those who believe in God. And the truth is, I really want to see again those I have lost. And so I hope for it to be real, I hope for an eternal life to be what awaits me after the life on this planet has come to an end. But there is no way of knowing if that’s how it will be. That’s when faith comes into play; believing in what cannot be seen.
I want to see my grandmother again, and hug her. I want to see my friends Maria and April, I want to be able to have everyone I love in a place where we won’t have to worry about gas prices, wars, violence, or material things. Heaven as a place of happiness and peace is a wonderful ideal.
But as questions about life arise, I long for explanations. I remember someone saying to me that I would be able to ask God any questions I had when I come in front of Him after I die. Back then, the first question that would come to mind was if dinosaurs really existed. Now, I can’t think of just one question to ask.
My life is full of questions, but maybe the most important one is about the evil nature of humanity. For there are so many good people in this world, but at the same time there’s so much wrong doing that sometimes the good is overshadowed.
An artist friend of mine was talking about two large panels that he constructed, and how it was so hard to move them from one place to another because of their weight and size. He complained for a while, and then he got quiet; and after a moment he said “it was my fault, I made them.” At that very moment, I wondered if God had ever said that after seeing the violence, the hate, the selfishness, and the lack of love that dominates the world.
There are so many questions for which I need some explanation. And I look for it everywhere; inside and out of myself, in books, in paintings, in the smile of others, in the passion of activism, in sunsets, in self-portraits, and in words of others. But I’ve come to realize that some of the things that help me better understand this life and its purpose come to me, rather than me finding them. The moment I stop trying to find the answers, some light comes to me. That’s how I came to read a piece by Claude Cahun, a surrealist writer and photographer. The essay was a response to a question about the most important encounter she had experienced in her life, and to that she said, “I am still waiting for some remarkable circumstance to strike me, by which to evaluate various encounters whose greater or lesser importance and meaning I see more or less clearly.” I think I am too, waiting for something to happen so I can get some clarity about everything I’ve lived through.
One of the most important principles in my life is having a purpose for being alive. I believe that I am where I am not by chance, but because it is necessary for me to fulfill a job that only I can do. And so I look for ways to improve the lives of others around me; I look for meaning in every action and for joy in every moment.
For me, building meaningful relationships with others is one of the most important parts of life. I believe in having a relationship with God, for I believe there is a God that is misrepresented in this planet by all his followers. And religion, religion adds structure, but I think it has gotten out of hand to the point that is not about God anymore. The more I think about it, the more I realize that religion has become about the individuals that follow it, and not about God; and I don’t think God is very pleased about it. So I don’t go to church as I use to. And if I go, I think more about the things I’m being taught; I question more. After all, those things are being taught by humans whose mistakes are just as bad as mine; and who don’t have all the answers, just like me.
I also believe in happiness and finding the value of everything that surrounds me. I believe in integrity; I heard somewhere that God doesn’t expect everyone to be perfect, just to be honest. And honesty combined with acceptance can make life easier to live.
I believe love is manifested in service, understanding, and respect. I believe in finding value and beauty in the simple things in life, like a flower, the sunshine, a smile, or a hug. I believe in quiet moments, for reflections leads a person to growth. I believe one can do anything desired if one puts hard work and passion on doing it. I believe life is too short to waste time in things that can’t be changed, and too big to be confined to one perspective of things. Death comes running after everyone. Death is coming after me, getting closer to me until the day she catches me still.

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