A few days back was the festival of "Avani Avittam". When I was a child, it was something I took for granted - that my father and my two brothers would change their sacred threads (Poonal) on that day followed by Gayatri Mantram the next day. I did not think much about all this then. Now my mother is staying with us. She is deeply religious and follows a lot of traditions and rituals. (I have to add she is also very liberal and progressive in her thinking in many ways). I do not have anything against her beliefs and in fact I enjoy a lot of the traditions we follow, well for the sake of tradition at least. It gives us a sense of joy, a sense of discipline to some extent, a sense of belonging. But I do not necessarily believe in everything in the way she believes... I grew up believing God in much the same way my mother does. Worshipping Rama, Krishna, reciting slokas and going to temples, performing pujas, celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi, Deepavali and what not. I did not question God then. I suppose growing older can make you go in the direction of further believing in God and going further down the religious path or it can make you more cynical, question God and in some ways form your own version of God different from the one you grew up with. I fall in some in between category here. I still follow some traditions and I still would go to a temple and pray in front of the deity if the surrounding are peaceful. I enjoy singing some religious hymns. I have a little shrine in our home with pictures of different Gods. I celebrate or try to celebrate some of the festivals. But my version of God has changed. As a child I probably had a simplistic version of a carrot and stick God - do good and he rewards you, do bad he will punish you. And later it was more of a benevolent God who was all powerful and made amazing things happen. And with time, I started questioning my understanding of God and also saw that religion and God were two separate entities. God then became a deeply personal entity and I still grapple with its identity in my mind. I still believe in prayer, yes to the same deities I grew up with, but it is a meditative prayer not a religious one in the traditional sense. This is my current state.
B on the other hand is agnostic. Well at least as I see it. He too has his own version of God I think - but he definitely does not believe in the rituals we perform but will go through it for the sake of having grown up with it and to just go with the flow when others are involved. He used to wear the poonal thread (since our wedding which is when he started wearing it) but it was me who told him to not bother with that since anyway he does not know or believe in what it stands for. It did not make any difference to him. His parents though religious always gave him the freedom to be who he chose to be and did not force him to do anything he didn't want to. A few days before Avani Avittam when my mom asked him if he will be changing his poonal, B plainly and frankly said that his poonal was upstairs in the closet. That set off a non stop rant for one week as to how it was so important that we follow these rituals and I should be telling B to follow them etc etc. I told her even his parents did not force him, how can I...and that got her further upset with me. B was indeed going to change his poonal anyway for the sake of my mother. We don't mind going through the motions of certain rituals to just please people like my mother. But when my mother started praising certain people just because they are religious and follow these rituals to the dot, I found it very upsetting. One person she praised is someone who is hot tempered and will be unreasonable to anyone and every one irrespective of age and is that way with his wife too. B on the other hand may not follow these religious traditions but is an incredibly genuine, kind person and is extremely respectful to people like my mother and has integrity and is principled. I don't say this because he is my husband (which is what every spouse says I suppose) - but he is that way sometimes to the point of irritating me because I feel some people don't deserve kindness or respect. When my mom insinuated that person X is worthy of praise because he is so religious it made me angry but I did not lash out at her and further upset her. I controlled myself and just said a few things mildly. B just performed the ceremony and now wears the poonal just to please her (and to save my back or I will get yelled at).
I was glad to know that even Mother Teresa had a crisis of faith. I wonder if every one has a crisis of faith at some point in their lives. At the least they may question the version of God they believe in I suppose. I could not have said it as eloquently as Einstein did when asked if he was religious (and I subscribe to this line of thought): "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious." (More on Einstein and faith here).
I believe that God is omni present and all-powerful - that divine grace that somehow orchestrates the complexities of this universe from the atom to the galaxies - something beyond our comprehension. I cannot fully comprehend God but I do believe in a force stronger and bigger than what my mind can conceive of - I find it in the beauty of nature, in the industry of one's own job, in music, in beautiful writing, lyrics, in science and in the minds that unravel the mysteries of nature, in the love I feel for people, in the innocence of children, in the unadulterated joy my children show at times, in the goodness of people that comes through at certain times. I cannot define it but can only feel it. It is not the Rama or Krishna I grew up with who I still worship just so I can give form to this abstract concept that I believe in. I struggle like every one but I hope I am able to give my children the freedom to understand and form their own version of God and form their own religion that adds beauty to this world rather than tarnish it in meaningless ways.