On my flight to Santo Domingo I sat next to a very friendly young woman, still nearly a girl, who told me she was traveling with a group to do missionary work in the Dominican Republic. This was her second trip to the DR, the first being to the resort area of Punta Cana while on vacation with her parents. This time she was going to Barahona, the western region of the DR near the border of Haiti. She really didn’t know what to expect but was excited to go.
Our flight was delayed for over an hour because the plane was full, and as Dominicans tend to do, everyone traveled with the maximum amount of luggage which caused the plane to be overweight and some baggage had to be removed to another plane, hence the delay.
The delay gave us plenty of time to talk and she was so disarmingly friendly that I found myself sharing my story of living in the DR. At the end of the flight, just minutes before we were to disembark, she suddenly asked if she could pray for us and I said “yes”. So she held my hand and asked God in a very detailed manner to favor me,. It was a sweet, spontaneous gesture and I was quite touched by it.
Then, minutes later, the doors opened to the plane and the throng of passengers started to move ahead. Before I realized it, I had lost track of my young friend. Her gesture, however, has stayed with me and has caused me to reflect on the whole concept of religion and the power of prayer.
I have always considered myself a spiritual person, I believe in a higher power, but never a religious person. I get this from my parents who experienced a restrictive upbringing in terms of religion. My experience is not unusual. American culture is very open about religion and the truly devout are often viewed as naive by those with a higher education.
Spirituality, as I see it, is at its most basic, an acceptance of a higher power. For me it has stopped there. I don’t give this power a name, gender or form. I don’t have a ritual I follow. There are no rules. I just try to be good and accept that I do not have all the answers or control.
Religion, on the other hand is different. In Western culture, religion has often meant rules and a definition of right and wrong. Western religion for the most part is dogmatic and judgmental. I dislike that which is why I have avoided religion in general. I don’t want to ever feel that I am better than someone else or that I’m right but you are wrong. So was hesitant in the beginning with my ex. I feared that he would want me to change, to be a certain way.
Hinduism is totally different from Western religion. There is no dogma, no attempt to convert; there is no ‘right’ so therefore there is no ‘wrong’. Yoga originated from Hinduism and it is a perfect metaphor for the religion. With yoga, the goal is alignment of the body and spirit. It is not an exercise although one can get fit by doing yoga, it is a way of achieving that alignment.
So here I was in the Dominican Republic, with the resonance of my young friend’s gesture still in the forefront of my mind and I come ‘home’ to my ex’s new place and the first thing I see is Rama, the tapestry I made, and next to it, the God altar. He has placed his Gods as the most important in his home. His religion is not something he does to live correctly, it is his way of life.
So who knows, maybe it’s coincidence or maybe not. Religion is probably the most powerful force to move and shape cultures as well as individual lives. I have been reading this book called “Am I Hindu?” because I feel I need to know more. I don’t know if I will become Hindu or religious in general but I do know that the experience of knowing my ex has shaped me and there is more to come.