Discovering the Meaning of ‘Religion’ and ‘Spirit’ as a Child

I feel like sharing stories surrounding religion and spirit in my life. I remember being in elementary school in the 2nd grade, where most of my classmates were Mormon, and a boy in our class started from one end of the lunch line to the other as he individually asked “Are you Mormon?” and if the person said “Yes” he said “You’re going to heaven”. I had no idea what it meant to be “Mormon”, but I assumed in that Elmer’s-glue-n’-glitter of a moment in my life, it was something I was since most people seemed to be it, and they also seemed so proud to be whatever that was, so, surely, I must be that too. There was commotion in a few parts of the line where, from what I could tell the answer was confusion or a “no” (basically not a “yes”), which caused that person to be severely, and loudly scapegoated. In a state of embarrassment to be in the spotlight amongst my peers, when the boy was directly in front of me, his question repeated for the delivery of my Tamagotchi-testimonial, absolutely strawberry-pink in the face I blurted, “what does it mean?” and was then given the same treatment as the rest of the other-than-no’s.

(These are tamagouchi’s–everyone cool had one. I found mine on the playground and said FINDERS KEEPERS which is something I did a lot and got into trouble for sometimes)

In kindergarten I was in a Catholic school, where we wore uniforms everyday and I dug my nose in the back of the classroom and apparently talked my little ass off, according to the reports my mom kept. Now that I think about it, nothing stands out in my mind about going to school there the way other schools stood out (I went to like 5 schools between the ages of 4-7 because of moving so much). I went to a pre-K on the Big Island the year before that, which I learned later was a Waldorf school. We learned to sew little blankets, had meals together on a long wooden table with fresh and tall flowers in the center, and we each said something thankful before eating. We played in gigantic trees whose branches swang low and long. There was a garden outside where we each had our own section, and I remember once experiencing a slight hypnotization gazing into the face of a sunflower as big as my head. Anyway, there is one thing that I vividly remember about being at the Catholic School, and that is a nap time where Jesus did not leave a goodie bag in my cubby for me because I chose to not sleep during nap time.

My mother taught me of the direct link between my heart and God through a few lessons blazoned in my mind. I remember her telling me about a voice inside of me that speaks, showing me to notice when something feels wrong or “off”. “The more you listen, the more she speaks; The less you listen, the quieter she gets–but she is always there for you, and always knows“, a subtle instilling of the inner awareness of an Inner Guide, God, of Consciousness. A web of ways to communicate were given directly and indirectly–to put my palms and fingertips together and pray, speak sweetly to leaves, appreciate the tastes of foods as I ate them.

I always wanted to be invited to church by Rhea and her family. Between the ages of around 8-10 we were neighbors, and we met because one day Rhea just starting darting rocks at me from her porch, so I started throwing them back until she was the one who got into trouble about it. Instant besties. Anyway, we would load into her mom’s lifted truck that had a/c and smelled like cherry jolly ranchers, and all the way to Hope Chapel we sang devotion songs, her mom’s gold Hawaiian bracelets glinting and tinking in the morning sunlight. Lyrics were displayed on the overhead screen, people were on stage in front of us crying and singing their hearts out–and I sang until I cried too, and it just felt good, and they usually got me a happy meal on the way home.

The Lotus Sutra has a character resembling a heart in the center of the scroll–a place I was told to rest my gaze as we chanted Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. When I was around 5 my mother started chanting, and it may have even been before then–I’ll need to ask and research. When we were still in Dallas (I was born in Grand Prairie, Texas) she had been chanting before moving to Hawai’i, so may have received her Gohonzon there. A Gohonzon is where the Lotus Sutra is kept–a cabinet that opens to display the Lotus Sutra. There are 2 smaller drawers beneath that, which nestle prayer beads, the tiny sutra recitation books, incense, and then a few other folded pages my mom had in there. It is a flock of birds gliding across my mind to simply remember the red-toned gohonzon we had for years and years. Anyway, I don’t know if the Lotus Sutra Scroll is given at the same time as the Gohonzon, or if she had it before. When I take a deep breath in, and let the words follow the pace of my exhale, the vibration of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo inside of my body is like giving my arteries, nerves and mind a spa treatment. Before I left Hawai’i in 2017 she gave me beads, a book and a gong bowl, without me asking and without having ever mentioned anything about chanting for a long time since then. It has become a tool I keep close to my side, and I continue to learn.

(The Lotus Sutra–see the heart in the center?)

My mother had two books laying around the house that greatly influenced the way I thought of the bible–The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, and The Women of the Bible by M.L. del Mastro. She did send me to vacation bible school for two summers, so basically I was taught the basics, but “basic” certainly ends there. I was also taught that Jesus’ life was partly spent amongst monks and holy priests of many places in the world–studying, learning, but most of all enjoying life. When missionaries came over, most times my mom would invite them in, bring food out or make them plates, and I’ve often heard her start discussing his life with them, them being left with questions of their own. I would actually do anything to be able to go back and listen with the mind I have now. She had a painting of Jesus next to our Gohonzon, completely throwing them for a loop, but also intriguing anyone who noticed and asked. At Christmas time there our tree would be, right next to the Gohonzon, and there my friends would be asking, “Wait, so do you believe in Jesus, or do you believe in Buddha?” I’ll never forget in college when taking a “World Religions” class, learning that the passages that were in place during the time of his life would have made it highly likely Jesus journeyed with traveling Holy men far and wide, learning techniques, meditations, all forms of prayer–not to mention then being exposed to many herbs, medicines, songs, dances, cures, expressions of love and compassion. Time spans of his life left out of biblical texts, compared to texts written during those same times suggest the high probability he was in India learning from Brahmin priests, and then spent time in Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries. I remember studying this with my peers, feeling a deep respect and pride for what I was once slightly embarrassed by when it comes to knowledge of Jesus and the interconnection of faiths.

I started reading The Autobiography of Malcom X when I was en route to Texas to be near my sister and nephew as he was being brought into the world. It was one I had been carrying in my to-read box for a long time, and I had time to kill. I remember telling people “It has been so long since I obsess-flipped through a book that fast!” Not only did my mind expand in learning about history, I became captivated by The Quran and learning about Islam. At that point in time I was doing research on schools to teach at abroad for the following year, either in Thailand or Japan, but the agency I was working through sent me an email asking if I’d like to teach in Abu Dhabi.

(to be continued..and probably further edited)

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