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Keeping the faith

Keeping the faith

In July 2013, MiNDFOOD published Losing My Religion, in which five readers detailed their religious backgrounds and how their attitudes had changed in adulthood, leading them to largely turn away from their faith. The response we received was overwhelming. Many readers wrote in to tell us their own story, whether it be turning away from religion or embracing it. MiNDFOOD now talks to seven people from different religious backgrounds – Hindu, Jewish, Salvation Army, Anglican, Muslim, Catholic and Buddhist – who have chosen to embrace their faith. We ask why they chose their current path and we discuss what religion means to them as adults, how it contributes to their life, what drew them to their specific faith and why they feel inspired to nurture their beliefs.

 

“My religion, my faith, gave me a lot of comfort”

Nitasha Thomson, Hindu

I grew up with my parents and older sister in India. We are a Hindu family, a Brahmin family, and religion was something we experienced every day.

Hinduism is a religion of lots of celebrations. My sister and I loved the festival of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god, and looked forward to it every year. Every day we would have the rituals and sweets, and sing and chant prayers; after 10 days we would go down to the beach and put the deity in the ocean.

When I was about 10, we went to a very sacred shrine in south India called Tirupati. I was so young but I remember the feeling of emotion that came over me when we went into [the inner sanctum] and saw the beautiful deity. The bells were ringing and there was this beautiful scent of incense … I actually cried.

I left India at 21, after my marriage to an Indian gentleman. A lot has happened since – a lot of upheaval, a lot of things I had to change in my life. Along the way I would say my religion, my faith, gave me a lot of comfort and the resolve to leave my first marriage after 20 years.

As I’ve gotten older, I find [Hinduism] is even more important to me. It’s inspired a lifelong commitment to vegetarianism and it’s definitely a cultural thing, too. I find
that it’s really important for me to maintain that tradition in
our family.

 

“Judaism encourages questioning and understanding”

Rabbi Moss, Jewish

I wasn’t fervently religious growing up, but my family was proudly Jewish and involved in the community. My grandparents on my father’s side were Holocaust survivors. My grandmother in particular came from a very religious home and had a very strong affinity to Judaism. My grandparents went through the horrors of the war, but my grandfather said he always had faith in God and that got him through.

I always had a strong faith in God. For my bar mitzvah ceremony my parents took me to Israel. I went to Jerusalem and the Western Wall, a 2000-year-old place of prayer. While I was there, I thought, “I want to be religious”. When I came back to Australia, my brother started his bar mitzvah lessons and his teacher was a lovely man who invited us to meet his family. That was an amazing experience, particularly to meet his kids, because I’d associated religion with old men. I saw in that family an elevated lifestyle and I wanted more of it.

I started reading up on Judaism and I wanted to learn more and more, because Judaism encourages questioning and understanding, not just blind acceptance. I was intellectually very stimulated by the philosophy of Judaism.

I think the biggest challenge to faith is suffering. I came to an understanding based on the teachings of Judaism that suffering is not something to be explained. You’re supposed to be bothered by it and if you’re bothered by it you’ll do something about it. You could see a poor person suffering and say, “Well, that is God’s will”. Whereas our thing is, “How could this be? I’ve got to do something about this.”

 

“It made me aware of being supportive and caring”

Chris Ballantyne, Salvation Army

My family were Methodist but not church-goers. I’m pretty much the only one of my family who became deeply involved in church life. I was a youth group leader and when the Methodist Church amalgamated with the Uniting Church I was appointed an elder. I was the youngest elder in South Australia at the inauguration of the Uniting Church.

When I was around 20, I started work at Channel 9. It was around then that I questioned my faith. It was very confusing and disorientating being away from my church. At the time I was doing Humphrey Bear appearances and I took him along to a Salvation Army children’s presentation. I then became a part of that church. Within a year I was made a full-uniformed soldier.

The philosophy of the Salvation Army – heart to God, hand to man – has made me aware of being a supportive and caring person and influenced how I look at things.

It was at a Salvation Army women’s camp that I heard God speak directly to my heart. I was concerned for one of my daughters and I’d closed my eyes to avoid everyone seeing my tears, yet again. Instantly, it was as if a film projector clicked on and in front of me was a movie of my girl. I saw all these precious memories of her, some of which I’d forgotten. I then audibly heard God’s voice say words that pierced my sorrow and wrapped my heart in His hands. He said, “I have not forgotten one second of her life. And I go where you cannot go. Trust me because I love her even more than you do.” From that moment on I knew she would always be in God’s hands and that was the best place for her to be.

 

“My faith influences my attitude to justice” 

Matt Sykes, Anglican

I grew up in a Christian family. My parents were very active in their faith and in encouraging me and my sisters in our belief in God. When I got to my teenage years, I decided not to have any involvement in that part of life. I really turned my back on any type of faith.

When I was 21, I attended a Christian event that my wife’s brother had invited us to. A guy got up to speak and the first thing he said was that a friend of his had been killed that afternoon; he’d been hit by a bus. In that moment I was made completely aware of my need for God and salvation. I actually can’t remember the rest of the talk, and afterwards it was important to me to read and learn about the truth of Christ … for my faith to be intellectually grounded.

My faith influences how I act and try to be as a person and also my attitude to justice, around helping those in need. Also, justice from a natural perspective, such as climate change. I try to act in certain ways that are Christian, but … certainly there have been times in my life when I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I guess it’s more of a point that I’m trying to live a life that’s consistent with the teachings of the Bible.

My wife and I spent a couple of years in Thailand working at a school for missionary children. It was really challenging in a lot of different ways but it was a good experience for us as well. Just to hear some of the stories about what they’d been doing and the way that God had been working, it was just amazing. It was very encouraging and affirming for both of us I think, in terms of our faith and moving from God being an intellectual thing to God acting in the world and making a difference.

 

“It provides me with comfort in times of difficulty”

Mehroz Afzal, Muslim

I was born Muslim. My parents would cite the Quran every morning. Being born in Australia, everyone has the freedom of choice in religion, and being Muslim, we’re taught to be grateful for anything that’s in your life. That’s one of the things I’m grateful for – being in this great country, with great people who understand and respect you for who you are. Any kind of diverse community has its positives and negatives, and unfortunately at times it is the negatives that get highlighted in the media. But I guess that’s a test of your spiritual strength. It comes down to the way I choose to overcome the challenge.

For me growing up, I found Islam to be a way of life, so I’m the person I am today because of my religion. It gives me a sense of purpose and it provides me with comfort in times of difficulty, so any time that I have any kind of question or issue, I just know where to go.

Dressing modestly has had a big influence and inspired me to create my own clothing label. Growing up it was quite difficult finding clothing; I would make my own clothes or alter what I’d bought and people would often say, “Oh, I love that!”. I studied fashion with the idea that there was a niche in the market that needed to be filled. [You can check out Mehroz’s debut Spring/Summer, 13/14 collection online at mehrozawan.com.]

I think any type of faith can be challenged and to overcome the challenge is the test. I’ve been labelled “culturally unfit” for roles when going for interviews, but that only motivated me further to pursue my own clothing label. When I look back on it, I think, “You know, that was my negative and that was my positive, and the positive outweighed it.”

 

“If my faith is not challenged, my faith is not growing”

Mary Pollinger, Catholic

My parents are both beautiful Irish Catholic people. However, my dad was a drinker and there were frequent arguments between my parents early in their married life. Although my dad was baptised Catholic, he was disinterested in religion. My mum was a strong, traditional Catholic woman and her faith was the bedrock of the family stability. When I was about 10 years old, my dad experienced a deep and radical conversion and it transformed him and our family life. I saw my parents’ relationship change from frequent arguments to love.

As a young adult, I walked up Croagh Patrick, one of Ireland’s holiest mountains, with my father. It wasn’t an easy mountain to climb but as we walked we got the sense we were treading in the footsteps of our ancestors. It was a very memorable religious experience.

My faith, my religion, is foundational. It gives meaning and purpose; it also strengthens and energises me and it’s a source of peace, love … it’s joy. When you ask me, “Has your faith been challenged?”, from my perspective, if my faith is not challenged, my faith is not growing.

Some adversity, some difficulty, is a challenge to work my faith because it’ll give me a power that I don’t naturally possess, it’ll give me an inner strength that I don’t naturally have, it’ll keep me calm when I’m facing hardships. It’s challenging me to work my spiritual muscle.

Jesus says when you clothe, feed or take in other people, you are doing it to Him. There is a two-way giving that happens here. I may feed a homeless person on a physical level, but the action also blesses me. The act of kindness, the act of selflessness, feeds me spiritually.

 

“You’re encouraged to tread the path and see if it works”

Ariya Chittasy, Buddhist

In late primary school and high school, my parents took me to Sunday dhamma school. In the beginning, I didn’t want to go, but after a bit I started to get into it. Then when I was 17, I went to a Buddhist youth camp, which overlapped with the stage of my life when I started to ask, “What’s this really about?” Before that it was always there but I never took it on as my religion, which now allows me to live in constant investigation of myself, my life and the universe.

In Buddhism, faith is seen more as confidence. You’re encouraged to tread the path yourself and if you see it works, then do it. I think my faith is definitely challenged every day in a sense because I’m constantly testing it out … testing out this idea or that way of life.

During my final year at school, I would take my younger brother to soccer practice once a week and as he played I would meditate. After about 30 or 40 minutes, my mind would start to clear and by the end, it would be completely clear and charge me for the whole week. I did really well in my exams. I wonder if I didn’t do that how much more clouded my mind would have been. It goes back to that confidence thing. It’s just something you can’t argue with because it works and you can see it.

Click on the images below to see the interviewees:

 

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