Let's talk about FAITH.
Cyrena: Hi Kim! It's time to talk about FAITH.
Kimberly: Why, yes it is! Cy, where do you think we should begin?
Cyrena: From the beginning! What was your first concept of "faith" that you can remember?
Kimberly: From an early age, I think I also synonymized faith with some practice or ritual associated with religion. For my grandmother, it was waking up every morning to her Buddhist chants. For my grandfather, it was following the rituals of ancestral worship common in traditional Chinese culture. For my parents it was interesting. My father always claimed that studying and reading was a practice of faith in science and one's initiative, whereas my mother had a more spiritual view on practicing faith. Needless to say, it was interesting growing up with them under the same roof.
Cyrena: That's so interesting -- so you essentially grew up with four different models of 'faith'...What do you mean by more "spiritual"?
Kimberly: I think my mother was humble in her faith, she recognized that there were things she couldn't fully understand or know. So, she believed in God and also saw the possibility of the existence of ghosts and other spirits.
Cyrena: Yeah, those are definitely concepts I grew up with, too -- spirits and ghosts. I didn't see such a regimented routine of faith -- my grandfather was Muslim, and all the other grandparents were lax Buddhists, or at least adhered to the same rituals of ancestral worship. And my parents were more or less the same, but even more lax -- though I can't ever remember a time where someone unequivocally told me that there was a god, or that there was a heaven, hell, etc.
I definitely heard of these terms - through the media and my neighborhood friends, but again, it seemed more cultural rather than "religious truth", if that makes sense.
Kimberly: I think I know what you mean. The journey to search for "religious truth" has been something I've been thinking about more recently in my ideas towards "faith".
Cyrena: Oh yeah? So has faith always been associated with ritual & practice then? Or did that change along the way? Which model did you like the most?
Kimberly: I think as I've grown in my understanding of religion and faith, so have my ideas changed towards practicing spirituality. Most recently, investigating teachings of the Baha'i faith has taught me to value religion as guidance and tools to unleashing our individual spiritual capacities, which may not necessarily be grown through merely performing rituals.
Cyrena: Cool -- can you tell me more about the Baha'i faith? I don't know much about it. How did you first come across it?
Kimberly: The Baha'i faith is one of the world's newest independent religions. The main focus of the religion is work towards building a just, peaceful, and sustainable world by focusing on service and community development at the neighborhood level. I actually learned about the faith during our time as students at Barnard College. One of my hallmates, who is now one of my dear friends, shared the teachings and service-oriented activities of the Baha'i teachings with me over the span of our time as students.
Cyrena: That's awesome and so interesting, especially since I was just reading about the distinction of religion - that is, how institutions can be exempt from certain laws though the basis of being a religion, of having faith... how would you define religion versus faith?
Kimberly: I recently attended a gathering with Baha'is where we actually touched on this topic. According to one of the main figures of the Baha'i faith, Abdu'l-Baha, "faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds." I feel that religion today has become muddied with adhering to laws or attachments to certain rituals that may not necessarily at its core, be contributing to elevating one's spiritual consciousness. However, that isn't to say that all religions work like this. I think as spiritual beings, it becomes our duty to recognize the fine distinction between faith and religion. How about you? What has been your spiritual journey?
Cyrena: Definitely - if anything, adherence to arbitrary laws and rituals is what most turns me off from "organized religion". I grew up more or less an atheist with beliefs in the supernatural, and I feel like in America, so much of the dialogue about religion & faith is binary in the most narrow sense: there is a heaven or hell, there are the believers and non-believers - it's extremely Judeo-Christian centered without taking other religions into account.
Kimberly: Have you had personal experiences with this?
Cyrena: Sure, I mean, I've definitely spoken with people about their Christian faith out of curiosity, and most were pretty sure I was going to hell, as a non-believer, haha... which is a weird thing to have a stranger or friend think of you. But more generally, I feel like it's permeated in our culture: to rebel, to be goth is to "invert" the cross - in pop culture, in fashion, you know? It's so limited, the only alternative.
Kimberly: That's an interesting observation...
Cyrena: Yeah it definitely dominates the dialogue! I mean, the words "under god" were introduced to the Pledge of Allegiance only recently, too. So as time passed, I became more interested in reading about spirituality as a belief in how we can live life, rather than claiming myself as a follower of a certain religion.
Kimberly: Hmmm... has there been certain readings that have stood out to you in their discussions on how to live life? And what is your understanding on the connection between spirituality and its application to daily life now?
Cyrena: It's sort of a mish-mash of a lot of things - Buddhism, Daoism, UFO theories... If I had to sum up my faith: it is that we are all creations springing from consciousness: we really shape the world we live in, and are all living beings trying to make sense of life. When you take that into account; it's important to treat every living being as you would like to be treated.
Kimberly: I like that a lot. Makes me think back to the Baha'i faith's main goal of unity.
Cyrena: And I suppose because I believe in the power of the imagination; I don't disclose any possibilities of the world - I think some scientists in quantum physics say that it's possible that there are infinite "realities" just from every choice we make.
Kimberly: It's fascinating to think about that humbleness that comes with being aware of these infinite possibilities too. This is going to be such an engaging theme for the month (even just for myself)! Talking about spiritual identities really provides an avenue for sharing stories about ourselves in a different way, one that is filled with our meaning and understandings.
Cyrena: Definitely! Humility & inspiration to do good, for sure. What's one time in your life where you felt like faith played a really integral role?
Kimberly: I think I'm living it right now, actually. I've decided to commit my time and energy to a year of service building community in Flagstaff, AZ to support Baha'i as well as local efforts to empower young people. Even my choice to come out to Flagstaff seemed to be full of confirmations. I had a job lined up in Beijing, China and was planning on staying another 2 years abroad, when I just came back to the States, and didn't feel right about it. And everything fell into place on its own in due time- all of my possessions in China were either sent to me or given away, and I've felt a growing sense of belonging in Arizona over these past 6 months.
That was a great question, Cy. What about for you?
Cyrena: That's so great -- I want to hear more about the experience of doing that!
I've never had a strong faith in one "thing", so I've never really had my faith tested. But there have definitely been times where I devote a lot of mental energy into wanting to turn an idea into reality, and I've succeeded -- which has reconfirmed my own current faith and I guess, most importantly now - my faith makes me way way more empathetic towards other people. Spreading positivity (on the basis that it is possible from intent) is really gratifying
Kimberly: That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. I even see INSTA-GRANDMA as an extension of that practice of faith- of asking from ourselves and those around us to reflect on their understanding of consciousness in their lives. I also hope that this space becomes one where we continue to foster making and building connections, as well as collaborating on ideas and visions.
Cyrena: Definitely! We are the compound results of our mothers and fathers before us after all... it's important to reflect.