An altar or more

We don’t have altars in our homes, back in Romania, as Orthodox Christians. We have icons hanging on walls. We pray to them. The altars are only in churches. Hindus, on the other hand, have altars everywhere. My mother-in-law has an altar in the kitchen, in Mumbai. Beautiful, colorful, awe-inspiring. My mother-in-law gave me all the ingredients for a proper Hindu altar: the Gods (Ganesha and Lakshmi), the agarbatti stand (incense burner), a lota (small water jug), a jeweled vessel with kumkum (red powder that is applied on forehead for blessing) and diya (a type of oil lamp).

We set it up when we moved to our new house, for a short ceremony of blessing and space clearing. And it stayed in our kitchen since then. In time, I added a beautiful icon that I have from my grandmother.

We are not very religious. I would say that we are, however, profoundly spiritual. We embrace the sacred in our space, especially in the form transmitted from our ancestors, in India and Romania. But not only. My husband has always found himself attracted to Zen Buddhism, mainly because of its simplicity. The altar in our meditation space looks more Buddhist than anything else.

I am more reluctant regarding all the religions. I have grown a painful skepticism toward all that is church and priesthood. What I prefer to do is pick and choose and give shape to my own belief-system. I love Jesus. I always have. I believe in him and feel his energy around and inside us. I believe in reincarnation and karma. I believe in a spirit world where all the souls roam free. I have started believing in dark forces that can mean harm.

I believe we are surrounded by unseen world of “energies” that interfere with our existence without our knowledge. I believe that we can improve, we can become more sensitive to the “unseen” and that would do a world of good. I believe we need the communication.

I hope my mother doesn’t get to read this, but ever since I moved away from home, I stopped caring about the sanctity of Sunday. On Sundays, people from my religion, are supposed to rest, as God rested on the seventh day. Other than cooking, no work is acceptable. I used to pretend to forget whenever I had some important, urgent, no other time-proper work. I used to tell myself that God doesn’t stumble on such small things as some work on a Sunday. I had to grow, time had to pass, for me to realize that Sunday is not a church imposed holiday, but a sacred ancient time when people not only get to rest their bodies but give themselves time to return to themselves, to meditate, to stop their existence in the busy world and turn toward the spiritual one, attend church maybe, pray, meet with the family, gain perspective. I don’t think we would ever stop otherwise. There is always something urgent to be done.

The sacred, the rituals, save us. I wished I had understood earlier. I guess I am becoming old now. I have always noticed that most people, as they grow in age, turn toward religion more and more. Young, mindless spirit I was, I thought it was the fear of death approaching making them try to mend the relationship with God, to get a sweeter deal. Now I know the obvious truth. As we get older, we simply start to understand.

As I write this, I realize how rebellious I have been. I would have never thought that about myself, because my greatest strides have been directed at conforming to the rules and standards and morals and values of my family and my society. I never liked it, I many times felt alienated but I did it nonetheless. Apparently, I was holding on some deep and strong and different personal beliefs when nobody was confronting me. Sneaky.

I now welcome into my life the sacred in forms I didn’t recognize before. I can accept that there are spiritual traditions that might not make a lot of sense to me now, but that nevertheless have a power that I should not fight, but surrender to. There are certain rituals that we need grab onto, as we climb. They are for our support and have done a good job for millennia. They have been my ancestors’. They will be  mine.

I want to tell my mother that I am sorry. I want to show my grandmother that I remember everything she taught me, all the prayers. I am sorry I didn’t go to kiss the priest’s hand and cross on Christmas. I should have done it for you.

I want to tell them that I am holding my icons on the east walls and I make a cross sign on the pillow my daughter sleeps on every night.

This heaven-blue icon from my parents lives in my baby’s bedroom. It’s my sacred.

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