These hands belong to my granddaughter Sitarah who is 8 years old – she visited her dad’s family at Eid and came home with beautiful painted hands – her dad is muslim. Her mother is my daughter whom I raised in a spiritual, non-religious home where all religions are embraced as we follow a non-dogmatic approach. The other day she asked me, “Ma are you a Christian?”
I told her that I do not follow one religion, but prefer to practice as a spiritual person which means I embrace all religions and can draw lessons and learnings from other spiritual teachings and from life itself – which prompted me to write this piece. I identify as a universal spiritualist which means that I believe in a universal power and energy, which comes from within and connects to the energies of the planet and earth. In my home we pray for people and each other, we light candles for various reasons – often to hold space for those who need it.We meditate when we need to, and find peace and reverence in nature. We have books from all major religions in our home and symbols from all religions in our home – we respect the practices of various religions so those who live in and enter our home feel comfortable. We embrace all religions in our home and we do not force anyone to believe in anything. I believe that if we want to have freedom in society we need to allow for all religions to be practiced freely, but we should never try to convert or force any person to become something else just because it will make our religion or culture stronger or give our own ego or sense of self a boost to know that I have changed a person to become more like me.Growing up my paternal grandfather was a lay minister and had a house church – every Sunday we would attend church and sing hymns in the lounge– we witnessed baptisms and funerals – I enjoyed being with family in this way. For me religion was a personal choice not something forced on one. When my pa died, I struggled to find a church to ‘belong to’ – I always felt that something was missing and often I would not agree with the priest and was unable to challenge him – the patriarchy and dominance of males in power in most religious structures concerned me. My maternal grandfather was a medical doctor and identified as anatheist – he was a political activist and one of the most kind and loving male role models in my life. After my dad died, I went on a long and deep quest to explore the question of spirituality especially around life and death. I learnt many things and realised that my spirituality was a personal choice and something I could practice in my home. My spirituality is innate and it allows me to connect with and enter many different spaces and move freely through and with others without discomfort. The more we allow ourselves to not merely tolerate but rather accept that each person’s spirituality is part of their own way of being in the world. We should move from thinking that one religion is better or more superior than anothertowards the realisation that all religions have the same values and principles which are common once we study them in depth – we want the same things for humanity – at the core of which is love, respect and peace. We should try to see the common threads and learn from each others’ religions rather than allowing the different practices and ways of being to divide us. There is no right or wrong way but rather a diversity of practices and ideologies.
For too long religion has become forced on people and the root of wars and centuries long strife between people. As we have seen too many innocent people have been killed – we need to connect more and move towards a way of being that accepts and allows different religions to live side by side without power struggles but striving towards our global aim of love, respect and peace between people. My youngest grand-daughter in her childish innocence whenever she refers to God mentions the pronoun ‘She’ and I have decided not to correct her after all how do we know the gender? Finally the question of indigenous spirituality has become increasingly prominent for me and thinking about where Western religion came from and how it was linked to colonialism. In connecting more to lost indigenous practices and philosophies like Ubuntu, we realise the wisdom of Africa and its people’s and our capacity to generously love and care for each other in all our diversities.
Written by Desiree Paulsen