Religion keeps us grounded

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Photo taken by Anca Stratianu.

Julianna Oliver (front), age 7, stands with other church members at church mass.

Julianna Oliver, Staff Reporter

I remember my mother driving to Hayward with my grandma and I in the back seat every Sunday. The car always smelled like my grandmother’s perfume. A sweet yet tangy smell that I could pinpoint in a sea of elderly ladies. As we drove across the San Mateo Bridge, the sun shined across the water. As someone who is Romanian-Orthodox, there aren’t many churches in the Bay Area, and we had to travel far to find a community. However, that church was where I grew up. It was a small little piece of Romania that my family was able to hold onto for a few hours every Sunday. Through language, culture and religion, I found a  community and a connection to others. 

 

If you were a stranger visiting Ascension of the Lord Romanian Orthodox Church in Hayward, you wouldn’t find me sitting in the pews next to my mother. You would most likely be pointed to the parking lot right outside where I would be playing with my church friends. Playing with girls and boys who, culturally, were just like me, brought out my national pride. Their parents, the pastor and my family, we were all a part of something bigger than ourselves. Religion kept me grounded because for a couple hours I could forget about the world. It felt like I was in Romania, able to speak a language I grew up hearing and speaking with so many people and learning about religious stories and cultural activities. 

 

Over the years, I started to stray away from being Orthodox. My grandmother moved back to Romania, so we stopped going to church. I dove into other forms of religion. I started to loosely believe in spirituality: being connected to the earth rather than a man upstairs, and I found little pieces of hope in the forms of coincidences. Sometimes I would get up late at night in times of stress and talk to any higher power who would listen. I’d ask for help with things I desperately needed.  I’m not tied down to being Orthodox anymore, but that doesn’t matter. Even in practicing something entirely different from my original faith, I’ve learned that religion still keeps me sane. There are small instances where I call upon help and my wish miraculously happens or I see a number on a license plate that I keep seeing and those give me hope amid larger problems that I feel I have no control over. Even with a switch in beliefs, I can always trace my groundedness back to when I was going to church every Sunday. Learning about the man upstairs was where I found interests in the mysteries of religion. As a child, praying gave me hope that I see in myself today. It was where I found my sense of community and most importantly, my sense of positivity. 

 

I think that the simplicity of religion is what resonates with a lot of people. Every religion has its own set of rules and practices. Structure in something like religion gives us the notion of structure in our lives. If we read between the lines and do what God(s) tell us to do, we might get through the inevitable waves of doubt every person experiences in life. And it doesn’t matter what religion. 

 

There are around 4,300 religions in the world. Of course I don’t know all of them, but I know this much: going to a church or listening to a religious ceremony gives us hope in a world that doesn’t offer much in the first place. The world is filled with power-hungry people, disease, stress of all capacities, disregard towards suffering and most of all, fighting. Religion combats the root of this fight by promoting peace and love. Without religion, morals might not have been as complex as they are today. The world found its sense of morality through words from God(s)telling them wrong from right which helps people feel like someone is watching over them. Praying to a holy being gives us the notion that there is someone listening to us when we feel as though no one is. Religion gives us the strength to push on when life gets tough and catches you when you’re falling. 

 

We look to stories in the Quran, the Bible (new Test.), the Torah, the Tripitaka, the Egyptian Book of the Dead and other religious scriptures for the pillars that shape who we are and who we need to be to model ourselves after the Gods we worship. This is what keeps us calm in times of stress — the notion that in order to reach every religion’s form of a valhalla (the Nordic word for heaven), we must follow rules. I’m not talking about being confined under walls of rules. I’m saying you are given a structure to obey when you’re lost. For example, The Five Pillars of Islam are profession of faith, prayer, alms, fasting and pilgrimage. Profession of faith proclaims there is only one God. Prayer means praying five times a day in various positions according to the time of day. Alms explains the importance of donating to those in need in the community. Fasting dictates the rules of fasting during Ramadan. Lastly, pilgrimage discusses the importance of travelling to Mecca, a holy site. Each pillar of Islam is a structure for those who are practicing. It shows a sense of purpose and a holy order higher than oneself. So for those who are Muslim, when you are lost, you can always go back to the five pillars. 

 

So where does this leave the people that don’t necessarily follow any forms of religion? In the same place as it leaves the people who do. Religion can be anything you want it to be. Any structure you’ve created for yourself that brings you peace and hope such as talking with friends, a daily routine, speaking with someone you trust about difficulties in life. 

 

In times of loss, I think back to religion. When I was younger,I was often stressed about the difficulties of having divorced parents. However, I focused on the religion I studied at my private school, I loved to listen to the stories my teacher told us about Jesus and his lessons through kindness. It made me feel better, thinking that maybe this was God’s way of showing me a lesson. That through bad, I find the silver lining of it all, and that’s what kept me going every day after school. 

 

The five major religions have one thing in common: community. Religions bring like-minded people together instead of against one another. 

 

 I love religion, even the ones I don’t necessarily believe in because I think back to when I was a kid and seeing everyone dancing around to cultural music, laughing, eating, enjoying one another’s company. It’s a slice of valhalla that everyone needs, especially during hard times which is why religion keeps us grounded and absolutely nothing will change my mind.