“You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.”
Have you ever felt that God exists absolutely everywhere? In nature, in people, in science, in maths...I love the idea of a grand design, perfect in every minute detail, like fractal geometry. Book and theatre lovers, please read or see a play called "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard (one of my favorites, who makes me feel so dwarfed and insignificant with his epic writing, whose creativity will make your spirit soar on the one hand, but will make the aspiring playwright in you want to curl up into a ball and die, because you can never equal that level of genius).
I've always felt that if you tune in to the right frequency in your heart and mind, you'll see signs in everything. You'll find faith everywhere. Certain places have their significance, but truly blessed is the one who can feel that magic sitting exactly where they are. Happy is the one who talks to God as one talks to a companion, who not only reads or memorizes the words but understands the meaning.
My elder kid told me that a lot of kids in class were saying that we should be afraid of God. I was appalled to hear it. I asked what the teacher said in response, and felt relief when I heard that the teacher said, "No, God is love!". But it made me wonder, who at home is filling such ideas into these kids' heads?
I went to a Christian Missionary High School in Senegal. It was the only English language high school, so I wasn't spoiled for choice. We had chapel every Wednesday and Bible studies, which were absolutely fine and highly educational for me. Once a year, though, we had "Chapel Week". Half the day we had regular classes, and after lunch, we had marathon chapel sessions with guest speakers. Most of the missionaries there were Southern Baptists, and I was one of a handful of Muslim students. This led to a lot of questions at home, when I would ask my father about the differences between "them" and "us", and he would patiently talk to me and explain.
One day during Chapel Week my senior year, this particularly zealous guest speaker decided to induce mass hysteria in the room well into the 3rd hour of his session. It started with how evil Disney movies were, then how evil Led Zeppelin's music was, there was lots of singing, clapping, and, eventually, tons of crying. He asked whoever was willing to throw the devil out of their lives and accept Jesus into their hearts as their Lord and Savior to come up to the front. I am not exaggerating when I say that in that big auditorium, other than the handful of non-Christian students, only 3 or 4 students remained standing in the back (I found out later on because they simply did not like the way he was trying to guilt everyone into going up to the front). We stood our ground, and he kept preaching fire and brimstone to those who weren't going up to the front. This guy was not kidding around. I was holding on to the chair in front of me with clenched knuckles, looking down, trying not to cry, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was one of the teachers, also my friend's mother, a wonderful Brazilian lady. She leaned in behind me and said softly, "This is not Jesus, T. Jesus is love." I think I did cry at that point, but tears of relief. In that moment, I believe she told me a universal truth that has stayed with me till this day, and I can never be grateful enough to her for it.
Needless to say, I skipped Chapel for the rest of the week. I had learned whatever I was going to from it anyway. Faith is love. It is when zealots take it into their hands that they turn it into something unrecognizable, something exclusionary, something entirely about themselves and their need to establish their own supremacy (also refer to Rule 1). And that, boys and girls, is not MY faith.
I loved Senegal, and I miss it dearly sometimes. I made good friends at school and did learn some valuable lessons about faith, but I don't miss the preaching. Those two years put me off preaching for good - whether it's religion, ANY religion, politics, ideology, etc - if I get a whiff of preachiness, I run in the other direction.
The ability to love and care deeply exists in all of us. And I am no hippy but I do believe there is no problem love cannot solve. Including my anger. Since yelling is not an option anymore, when I am truly exasperated about something, I am having to find other ways of explaining myself. Mostly, I sound sarcastic, which doesn't work well at all with kids (or anyone, come to think of it, unless you're enjoying a good old game of repartee or you're Blackadder), and then I have to find better ways of getting the point across. Yes, I am actually having to explain why we don't do certain things. Exasperating as it can be, it's the love I have for these little people that will get me through, and tapping into the love they have in them. And bless them, they have gigantic amounts of it in their tiny bodies, don't they?