By Bethany Grzesiak
Thirty years ago, my 8 lb body was dunked into a tub of blessed water and I was born again as a child of God. Looking like an overstuffed pierogi in an antique off-white gown also worn by my mother, I lacked any awareness of what I was signing up for. A life of ritual, discipline, and well, a whole lot of Jesus.
Aside from my parents, who acted as my direct moral compass, Jesus was the leading figure of my youth. A ‘big brother’ of sorts that greeted me in the morning while walking over the threshold of my Catholic elementary school. Crucifixes were positioned next to the wall clock in every classroom like an army of Jesuses minding the time.
Eighteen years of Catholic schooling ensued. Eighteen years of strict uniforms, Tuesday morning Mass, and priests moseying the halls. In high school, weekend retreats were spent openly analyzing the Bible’s parables. In an age of painful self-awareness, an estimated ten percent of the group would join in the voice-cracking singing of hymns, while the rest stayed mum or found entertainment slyly scheming for the attention of the opposite sex. Try as they may, teenage hormones and the urge for rebellion cannot be suppressed.
Though my tone may seem to indicate otherwise, there are aspects of my parochial upbringing that I appreciate. Waking up and having my outfit already assembled gave me thirty additional minutes of sleep. My community was welcoming and supportive. When our sports team played, I could barely decipher the enthusiastic cheers of my friend’s parents from my own. Our teachers tackled polarizing topics, and although a clear conservative stance was undeniable, they surprisingly emboldened differing opinions that promoted conversation.
It should be known that like all other sensible human beings, Catholic kids question their beliefs too. There is comfort in the faith that raised you the same way certain smells remind you of the warmth of your mother. However, exposure to cultures outside of the brick and mortar is unavoidable. Sooner or later we ask ourselves, “What if?” Meaning, what if we’re wrong, what if it’s bogus, what if it’s all for naught.
I certainly have asked these questions, and quite honestly still do. Frankly, I’m more concerned about those who don’t. Deep discussions among my closest friends on this topic almost always end with an “I give up” remark. After talking in circles without a definitive conclusion, someone will toss their hands into the air and exclaim, “What’s the harm in believing?”
With this, I will get to my plea to the millennial generation. Before answering, I wish to express what I have come to learn, since the odds are you have as well. It is collectively agreed upon that millennials are born between 1980 and the late 1990’s. This means that today we are between 18 and 37 years old. It’s an expansive time span, but regardless, if you fall within this range life has likely smacked you down once or twice. Your one-time immortal parents are now plagued with health issues, work’s expectations have doubled, you’ve been blind-sided by a break-up, or perhaps are knee-deep in raising the next generation. For the trailblazers of this era, middle age isn’t a notion in the far off distance, but rather turning the corner to come knock at your door.
To survive the turbulence that speckles adulthood we search for an ideology we can sink our teeth into. For me, the Catholic religion was a fall back. Beautiful teachings set the foundation: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Sounds good to me, and it is. It promotes peace and harmony. At its core there is nothing amiss about believing in the doctrine associated with a specific religion. Belief is personal. The religious path you choose to follow only dictates the direction your feet will take you. However, what I will argue is that there is harm in settling on one.
Spongy minds are at risk of becoming complacent in the EZ-Boy of the church. It is tempting to seek such relaxation, however, neglecting the fountain of wealth found in alternative sacred texts not only robs potential for additional spiritual fulfillment, more importantly, it is a missed opportunity to connect the dots between our shared experience.
Somewhere along the lines the great scriptures meant to ease weary souls became competitive, like there were too many chefs in God’s kitchen and someone had to pack their knives and go. I am not the first to have the realization, but I see value in stating again, that the religions of our world are more similar than they are different. Their similarities are enough to support a cohesive working environment, and their differences enough to bring new spices to the mix.
A place to start is acknowledging the significance of numbers. Take the number three. Being raised Christian, my first thought is the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise, Buddhism has the Triple Gem: Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha. In the mystic Jewish tradition of the Kabbalah, it is said that the soul has three parts: Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama. Of course, explanatory comparisons of the groupings will not be exact, but there are uncanny connections.
The Old Testament of the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. You’ll find the words Ruach (Hebrew) and Pneuma (Greek), used to reference the Holy Spirit, both of which translate to “wind” or “breath.” Right away, a light bulb goes off that the Hebrew word appears in both Christian and Kabbalah teachings, but the essence of the two concepts should be explored.
The Holy Spirit has many roles, one of which is to help Christ’s followers embrace and carry on his teachings. These include the Beatitudes spoken during the Sermon on the Mount, which are thought to encompass Jesus’ ideals of compassion, spirituality, and mercy. Now let’s consider the Ruach, which Kabbalah describes as the middle level of the soul; the part that holds moral virtue and can distinguish between good and evil.
I cannot claim to be a scholar, and perhaps I am reading at surface level, but it is my perception that the teachings of Jesus that the infiltrating Holy Spirit helps uphold are meant to foster aspirations for “good” acts. Bluntly put, providing a guide to distinguish how to behave by separating good from evil.
The Dharma, though a much broader term, still conveniently and comfortably falls in line with this discussion. The Dharma supports the natural law, a way of ethical conduct that allows all beings to live together peacefully. Furthermore, just as the Buddha is understood to be the embodiment of the Dharma, Jesus is thought to possess the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Personally, when this revelation first occurred to me I thought, “Huh?” Differing parts of the world thousands of miles apart created similar beliefs and allegories for their people. I can only give the explanation I have come to understand: because we all feel, we all experience, we all seek. Original thought is hard to come by when individuals in the committee are cut from the same cloth known as humanity. This brief observation of religious parallels is the tip of the iceberg. It only gets more eerie (or perhaps enlightening?) the deeper you dig.
Millennials, I’m speaking to you for two reasons: First, because I am a proud member of the generation, and second, because I know all too well the desperation to make sense of the messes life has by now thrown at you. With that, I will conclude: no matter what kind of funny looking outfit your parents dressed you in, or what religion decided to claim you, with every ounce of my being I encourage you to keep searching. Put comfort at risk and set forth. You may come back satisfied with your spiritual affiliation since birth, but the journey will forever change your outlook on this world and your place within it.