By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
MY Christian friends, both from the Catholic and Protestant religions, would like to see me a Christian. My Buddhist friends would want me to become a Buddhist. My Baptist friends, of course, would want me to go back as a Baptist, once again. If my aunt were alive today, she would have made an effort to convert me as a Jehovah’s Witness. My grandfather, Laki Ilot, who was an herbalist and a practitioner of indigenous healing arts would not wish me to be with any of them.
I am not a member of any organized religion as of now, although I was baptized thrice. As a child of Roman Catholics, I became a Catholic before I was able to utter my first word. My mother was a devout Catholic who had a devotion to the Lady of Manaoag whose miracles she believed in and whose image she kept in an altar with the image of Jesus. My father was a non-practicing Catholic, who spoke to God as if they were close friends, without the urgency of giving thanks for blessings he received, and cursing whenever he gets his vehicle ditched in the rain. Whenever he cursed, my mother would strongly admonish him, “God will strike you with lightning!”. And he would retort, “If he is my friend, He would not give me this suffering!”
Despite being a Catholic, my mother had a very deep reverence for the sky. She would bring me out to watch the stars, and gave them names. She had a name for the only comet I saw in the night sky, that appeared so near, I could hear it throb. She did this whenever she can, whenever the clouds receded fast to be on tryst with the wind. This she did, while my father snored, and dreamt of airplanes he could build as toys.
I coasted along as a Catholic for so many years, attending Catholic schools, educated by Belgian nuns who were intolerant of questions about virgin births. For this singular question, I was punished, along with another classmate, to clean the dark room where the bones of priests and nuns were stored at a cathedral. Perhaps it was our imagination, but, as we dusted the walls, we felt the bones tap our shoulders and we ran so fast, but our uniforms got stuck on the protruding nails. We promised, never again, to question the sanctity of the unexplainable.
In college, I met a charismatic student leader who was a Southern Baptist. We would attend church services regularly and after several months, he convinced me to be baptized. That was when my body was submerged in the water, where some of the liquid entered my nose, and made me sneeze and spew water on the pastor’s face. I became a woman with a full-pledged religion. And then I asked another question, “Why are we always asking for forgiveness for sins we are not even aware of?” Because I tried to be good, and can swear I have not sinned, but the pastor told me that I have sinned somehow, without knowing it, and must confess. So I invented some sins and confessed. And I got out. I left the student leader dip others in the water.
The third baptism was at the Jordan River, also known as Nahr Al Sharieat, a river in the Middle East that flows roughly north to south through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. I do not remember so much about this baptism, except that the whole class wanted it for the experience of the holy water in the river, and before I had time to think, I was thrust to the center, by the person behind me who was impatiently waiting for his turn to get baptized. The holy man grabbed my nose with one hand, supported my body with his other hand, and dipped me fully in full view of the others, who cheered afterwards. I do not remember if I got baptized into a new religion, or re-affirmed an old religion. But I was given a small bottle of holy water to take home.
I can recount so many interfaces with other religions, from which I had chosen some core beliefs and practices that continue to enrich my spiritual journey. For now, I am in the holy presence of creation, where I love, and learn to love some more, whether I walk in the darkness of hostile alleys that extinguish life, the darkness of the soil that makes things grow, or the darkness of the sky that makes visible the stars.
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