Some of us search for a deeper meaning in life while some simply abide by a religious path or a combination of both. We share a common trust that whether or not we meet God, even if we don’t believe in such an existence, that they will protect us and guide us through a righteous path. While some choose to believe and others don’t, there still lies this liminal space on Earth. Some are born into a religion while some choose their own religion. Whether you were introduced to the name God, Allah, Dios, Diu, Vishnu or Ik Onkar, different people and religions have a different definition of God.
Finding one’s way is not as simple. We must consider that often when the faith you grew up with loses its meaning, one must configure a new identity apart from the one they grew up with. Sometimes faith is about trusting the process and knowing that the experience is more of an internal one, about how one defines their relationship with God(s).
Some religions came across the word God referring to a single person, whether as a spiritual being or a physical one. Some religions come across a series of individuals of many centuries with God directly speaking to or through them while others came up with God by turning towards universal intelligence and declaring multiple Gods with different names and descriptions.
My personal experience:
Being born into Christianity, which is the faith of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, I somehow skipped over the path of choice in what I wanted to believe in. I was instinctively immersed into the faith that my parents trusted would lead me to eternal life.
Their belief is based on faith, not just the teachings of the religion but also the acceptance of the religion from their family and culture. Even before I could make a choice, I was dedicated to the church and later baptised, publicly acknowledging their decision to give my life to Christ.
I simply walked into the path that my parents already knew as familiar. Mwari is who my parents refer to him as, while I refer to him as God. My mom always followed the notion that the Bible teaches that we must “train up a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old, he will not depart from it”, thus I was raised in such a way. Even though we were introduced to God differently, there still seems to be this underlying connection between us. Finding my way is about finding my God given purpose and ensuring that I live a purpose driven life.
Being born into Christianity, I learned to trust God along this journey. I have never thought of converting but rather strengthening my spiritual relationship with God in a way that favours his will. It’s almost as if every time I want to give up, he appears in the midnight hour, giving me strength, encouragement and assurance that he knows my tomorrow. It’s not as simple as a phone call, but rather a one-on-one moment with myself, trusting that he hears my every word. Just the thought of trusting God with my life and my future brings me peace.
If you were to ask me who God is, I could not answer you simply or with a single answer. I have been trying to figure it out and answer the question for myself. God is more internal to me, not to say he is within me, but my relationship is more internal to describe who he is. He is not mankind but rather a spiritual being that I can feel but not see. I have not met him but I can feel his presence with my personal walk and path.
However, as I grew up I began to become aware of the world around me and how even others who grew up in the same faith as me might’ve interpreted their experiences differently from mine– or those who follow a different faith, how we can all follow our own path but still be connected in the end.
Through the journey of this piece, I hope to learn from others and hear how their paths may be similar or different to mine, and how regardless of our differences we can all relate to each other. I interviewed Amanda and Halima and they shared with me their experiences in their faiths and how they have been finding their way both spiritually and personally. I’ve captured their experiences in their words below:
“I was born into it, essentially. Before I was born, you could even say. I was connected to it because of certain practices in the Evangelical Christian church. I remember my mom telling me how she was going to church and praying for me even when she was pregnant with me.
I am who I am because of what I’ve been through and that has shaped my beliefs. In many ways, I unconsciously practiced certain spiritual gifts that I had within the church that you can’t necessarily see or prove. For example when I would be in church, and if I was praying for somebody, sometimes I could see things, or I would hear things. Sometimes I would just say things to them. During the prayer, and after people would ask me, how do you know that thing? How did you know that about me? And I would be like, Oh, holy shit, what does that even mean? And what they do in the church is that they just give you the language and for example say that God or Jesus had spoken to me. The issue with that is you are not also taken care of spiritually or emotionally afterwards. Like how does that energetic exchange impact me later when I’m gone and by myself. There was no caretaking for that. There was no true value for somebody’s ability to channel whatever language that we’re using to describe it. And so spirituality later became a thing for me as I processed the emotional, sexual and religious trauma I experienced in my childhood and that’s where the word faith comes in– for me, it’s something I choose to purely believe in. It’s not that I believe in something because it’s true, but rather something is true because I believe in it. I believe we have that power to consciously live in a certain way and manifest it physically in your life.
I ended up practicing spirituality in my healing journey through mindful practices like meditation, yoga and journaling. I learned how to do body scans and a lot of other somatic healing forms. I’ve always been spiritual. I’ve always had some connection to something bigger. We all just want to make a meaning in our lives and make that meaning in a certain way that resonates with us deeply and authentically. But it becomes very damaging and harmful when you impose that idea of meaning on somebody else, or the lack of meaning creates an alliance with you. And I think that’s when you’re moving out of fear and not love anymore. So that’s how I conceptualize my faith– moving through the world consciously and authentically out of love.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve never considered converting, although I really like being in spaces where I can connect with that kind of spiritually charged energy or being surrounded by people who are collectively co-creating a space to invite peaceful energies and experiences. As a person who lives in my mind and over thinks a lot, meditation has allowed me to calm the mental chatter and hear what my spirit is saying beneath it all. A lot of the mindfulness practices I use are rooted in Buddhist and Hindu philosophy rather than a religious authority or regulation. I wouldn’t say it’s been a need to convert, rather it’s a need to convert my own thinking and my own conceptions of self because I’m inherently spiritual. Being able to combine that need for expansion and growth with reconnecting to myself in this way feels like a separation from and then a reconnection to my mind, body and spirit. Spirituality to me is reprogramming my mind from old self-limiting beliefs that are a result of my societal and childhood conditioning by meditating in different depths and choosing to be present with myself in the moment without judgement.
My faith has helped me with my immigration, my job, and my finances. My faith gives me a sense of grounding. That’s the main thing for me because it balances out the need to live in my mind and intellectualize everything, because then I feel connected to Earth and to my body while knowing that I am not my thoughts or emotions. Retreating into myself in silence is such a powerful practice and a prayer in itself and it keeps me grounded and connected to the Earth and its elements.
Overall, my faith and finding my way has meant choosing peace and genuinely choosing myself every day through my spiritual practices. That’s the magic of it– it’s because I choose to open that channel and that door to connect with something bigger, the collective consciousness. It’s just that now, I no longer believe that I need to be in a church to be spiritual. I don’t need to say this specific prayer or use religious language. I don’t need to call on Jesus. I can just tap into spirit wherever I am in the car on the way out somewhere, wherever I am as long as I consciously and mindfully choose to. I think that’s the real power and I can tap into it in the present moment and take care of myself as I find my way.”
“I am Muslim and I was born into Islam. Both of my parents are Muslim, as well as all my other extended family members.
I don’t think I can really define faith in a concrete manner. It’s deeper than that. But I would say that it is to trust in Allah with certainty and confidence. Even though you can’t really see him in a concrete matter, you have that conviction that he exists, and that he guides you both through tough and happy times. Allah is the creator of all non-living and living things. And as Muslims, we also believe that he is the overseer– he knows what you know and what you don’t know.
I’ve never really thought about converting because one of the most essential principles of Islam is faith and believing in Allah first and foremost. In principle, it’s not a religion that forces a person but allows them to believe on their own with sincerity, acceptance, and truthfulness. Yet even though I was born into Islam and have knowledge of other religions, I am Muslim. I am Muslim because I believe that there is no deity but Allah and Muhammed is his messenger as well the teachings of Islam.
Finding my way means understanding my purpose and discovering myself in a way that goes with the belief that as a Muslim I believe in Allah. And I believe that he will guide me through my life and through that path. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a straightforward path. Sometimes it gets rough, and there are bumps, but somewhere and at some moment, I believe I am going to get there. There is no such thing as “being lucky” but a series of choices we make as human beings that may be attributed to blessings determined by Allah. In difficult moments, Allah becomes a source of strength. Prayer played a big role in defining my path and acts as a way of communication with Allah. We have these phrases that we usually will say, for example, InshaAllah or Mashallah, and these are phrases that we use the most to say that if He wills, then it will happen.
Even throughout last year, I had a hard time during the COVID lockdown. I was living alone and so far away from my family. It was very challenging but I had to kind of reflect and fall back on my religion and Allah through prayer as a way of communication. Prayer helped me to find a place of calmness and just peace for that time being. Overall, when I couldn’t reach out to someone to talk to, I know that he [Allah] listens to me and has the capability to ease my struggles.
One important thing also is that Islam is not just a religion. It’s way bigger than that– it’s a peaceful way of life. So, the way I interact with you as a human being, the way I interact with the Earth, and the way I interact with animals is all part of my religion. It influences you to be fair, honest, helpful, passionate, and empathetic. It weaves into your identity but it also gives you the room to discover all that it is, even if you were born into Islam. Just know that in life, you’re still discovering and you’re still seeking knowledge. Growing my path in Islam and building my relationship with Allah has helped me.”
In essence, finding your way is not always simple. Sometimes it requires exposing yourself to the world around you to find what really brings you peace. Spirituality does not always have to be found within a religion and can be found within yourself. It becomes about you and your own thoughts, desires and shaping God within your image.
Regardless of who God is to each one of us, religion, God and spirituality have always found us in the most unexpected places. It has helped us find purpose and meaning, to restore hope and optimism, to find a sense of community and to cope with stress, depression and anxiety. Together we have found peace in the different paths that we have chosen or will choose, even if that changes in the future. God or the idea of God in many ways belongs to a realm of the unseen, thus an element of faith and belief is required. Faith is holding on to God’s promises and finding your own fulfilment and together our spiritualities suggest that there is something greater in the world that connects us to each other and the Universe itself.
Whether our faith is one that we were born into or had to navigate through as we grew older, there is something that is more internal about these experiences. And whether one already belongs to a religion or is not religious at all, life has its way of still bringing a community of people who share a common interest and devotion to each other.