Each morning, someone in my host family prays to the family god. Sometimes they just sing, other times my host mom gathers fragrant flowers from the garden and places them around the idols. I leave them to their worship and at first, let my questions go unanswered. I have to be honest-I am ashamed to say that I initially dismissed their practices, as they were so different from my own religious culture.
As a group we visited a Sikh Temple, and I felt the same discomfort creeping in. The same judgement. Around the Sikh scripture were swords and daggers. It was difficult to imagine that these kinds of symbols, that represent very different things in the United States, would be welcome in a house of worship there. Even as the basics of the religion were explained to us, I could not understand how their religion was “right”. Afterwards we got the chance to visit a Catholic Church and I immediately felt comfortable. Everything was familiar and I knew exactly what I was seeing and the theology behind its presence.
When we went to the garden of Saras Baug, we entered the Ganesh Temple which is Hindu. People were taking off their shoes, some sat in front of the idol while others simply bowed to the idol and walked away. I saw the idol and the people worshipping it and immediately thought about how worshipping idols was considered “wrong”, from a Judeo-Christian point of view. However, as we walked through the Ganesh museum, I had a realization. If a Hindu walked into a Catholic Mass, they would be just as shocked and uncomfortable as I was feeling. They would wonder why we believe the bread and wine turns into Jesus’s body and blood just as I wondered why they were walking around the idol, looking at it from different angles. How strange my religion-it’s rites, rituals mythologies and stories- must look to someone who has no context or connection to it.
Once I realized this, I became more open to understanding other religions, especially Hinduism. I have begun to ask my host family more questions and by doing so, I have not only grown in my understanding of Hinduism, but I’m able to deepen my relationship with them. While I may not adhere to Hinduism, I am learning about from people I have come to care about. I have gained a reverence for their beliefs and the realization of the similarities rather than the differences between Christianity and Hinduism. I love that Hinduism is not something left at worship like Christianity so often is, but the beliefs are woven into everyday life. Each Hindu can choose to practice how they want and as much as they want, I have great respect for the personal responsibility they take in their faith. By hearing about a different set of beliefs, I was also forced to examine my own beliefs and think critically about why I believed them. If I had not realized how a Hindu would feel in my church, I would have shut myself off to greater understanding of the faith and also greater understanding of my own. Being truly open does not mean just being ok going into another place of worship, you have to open yourself up to the conversations that come with truly learning about a new religion.