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So I’ve been having my vision of the world upturned for the better recently. For the first time, I am gaining insight into my, and all of our, intrinsic worth as human beings and how God’s hand really is in everything. I am feeling competent and proud of myself yet o so reliant on Divine Providence, and the combination is unspeakably good to me.

God will provide, I tel myself, and really believe it. And this takes the panic, the mania, the torture out of my every day existence of looking for a job, meaning, purpose, love, and to create a good life for myself. Luckily, I am far from alone.

My religious/spiritual quest has taken me far afield of my upbringing as a traditional but relaxed Catholic. My family goes to Church every week, and I find great comfort, mystery, and meaning in the sacraments of my Church, though that hasn’t stopped me from exploring other religious traditions. I feel firmly rooted to Catholicism as my spiritual home in many ways, though I have a red lotus, not exactly a Christian symbol, tattooed to me.

SOmetims I just feel like a walking contradiction. My Western, analytical sense gets a bit hot and bothered by it, and my orthodox Christian guilt complex can be a bit of a bother. I question, and question myself, all the time.

These questions have been complicated, or rather, shed light on, by my intimate relationships. My first boyfriend was raised Catholic but an avowed atheist, the kind of person who kind of despises religion as worse than believing in Santa. This wasn’t really too much of a conflict on a daily basis, but one day his grandfather got sick and I tried to comfort him spiritually, and he wasn’t buying it. That got me thinking about the relationship in general and whether we really were meant for each other, and was one of the reasons it eventually ended. Then I met a neuroscience major with an interest in philosophy, and we initially hit it off because of the depth of our conversations but ultimately for reasons not directly related to philosophy but just plain old it being an unhealthy relationship, things ended.  We didn’t have much of a common base in terms of background, and this all got me thinking that maybe I should start looking for someone more similar. To avoid risk and hurt. At one point I was very casually seeing a Russian Jewish guy born in Tashkent, and while his at first glance exoticness was a little bit of a turn on to be honest, and he is one of the kindest, gentlest people I know, it wasn’t meant to be and the sparks weren’t really there. I also realized I didn’t want to be with an only child who talked to his mother all the time.

Then there was C. He was a marine who had converted to Catholicism, majored in economics, and was cutely conservative but not intolerant. I was more than smitten, I thought he was the one.  For a variety of reasons which basically come down to timing, we only got to spend a little time together, and what we did have made me feel ecstatic with revelation that we were soul mates and this was the guy. Now, about two years after that, we are definitely not on that page, and despite many efforts on my part to at least remain close friends, it is clear that I want someone who wants to be a part of my life. And just because he’s pretty much the only guy that I’ve had strong feelings for that I shared a lot with and thought my family would like doesn’t mean he’s the one. Time will tell, but to this point he sure hasn’t acted like it. I don’t doubt that he’s had at least decent intentions but kindness and communication are a must.

It took me a long time to come to that, to give up what seemed like the fire of divine revelation. He was certainly everything that I thought I wanted, the perfect companion for the life that I had planned.

Thankfully, life has not gone as planned. It has thrown me for a loop every step of the way, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I have seen wonders far beyond anything I ever imagined, and my life, while it doesn’t resemble any one else’s I know very well and seems to be missing some of the conventional elements of happiness, like seeing your dearest friends more than once or twice a year, has been much more fulfilling than I anticipated. I have come in contact with the sublime mystery of life, and it’s been beautiful and terrible. And mostly, that has been through travel. Living in France changed me, forever, and for good.

And then I saw Asia, and I realized what a wonderful world we do live in. What beauty and diversity, what appreciation for what I already have and also for the mystery and strangeness of people who experience this same human life but in a totally different mode.

They say, In Christ there is no east or west. They say the same thing about the sky in Buddhism.

And oh, by the way, before I went to Asia, during the time I was living in France, I finally took a friend’s advice one night I was out at the bar celebrating a friend’s birthday. At a Mexican bar in Paris, go figure. She said that if something is meant to be, it will be, and that if I was meant to find C again, I would.  I didn’t have to try so hard or wait for him or any of that. I would not miss out on my destiny, there was nothing to fear.

And this reassured me, somehow, especially as she related meeting her husband dating for a while then separating only to come back together again.

And I walked into the night, and I met a handsome man. He asked me out for drinks, and I said yes.

What I thought would be a short and fun affair turned into something else. I knew I had to go back to the US within about two months of meeting him. I can’t say with total confidence what it is yet, though I guess that’s true of most of life. He ended up meeting my parents, and loving them, and my parents definitely liked him too.

And did I mention, he happens to be from North Africa, and Muslim, and not that much of an intellectual, and just a happy, easy going person?

We kept in touch, I feel like I”ve made most of the effort but at least he’s reciprocated. Can’t say things have been all sunshine and roses, or that I’ve felt like the princess I did at the beginning of our acquaintance in that way since. I do know that the whole time I was in Paris, we talked every day.

And that I missed him, still miss him, terribly.

Maybe it was just because he was a hand to hold and a mouth to kiss.

Maybe we were just both nice people who were attracted to each other, and we enjoyed each other’s company for the time that we had, and will remain as fond memories.

Maybe he will finally respond to the email I sent a week ago, maybe he will call me like he said he’d try to a few months ago, maybe circumstances will change and a relationship would be possible.  Maybe we’ll have changed, and it won’t happen.

But what I will say is that today for the first time, I really am open to something more than dating. Not just as a trial basis, but believing it could work out if both of us were willing to fully invest in it, which I guess is a precondition for any serious relationship.

TOday I went to the library and took out a book by Karen Armstrong, a popular scholar, on the life and times of Muhammed. I had been wanting to read this book for a while and really respect Armstrong’s work.

Suffice to say, whatever remaining fears I had of irreconcilable religious differences or a patriarchal, ideological, intolerant at inception zealotry on the part of its founder were completely gone.

Apparently, Islam was a huge step forward for women of the time, and considered in its 7th century Arabian context, Muhammed was a real feminist. A lot like Jesus and the early Christian Church.

Unfortuantely, religions often take on the customs and character of the peoples who accept them and don’t fully transform society in the vision of the founder. If they did, I think there’d be something a lot closer to peace on earth- clearly the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed would agree on that, as would the later Jewish prophets, and I think the nature-worshiping Hindus wouldn’t have much of a problem with it either.

More and more, I am able to grasp the all-encompassing nature of God, of life, of the goodness of all things. A Buddhist temple might not be where I am used to finding God, but that doesn’t mean he’s not there. Or that He’s not more of a She, as the Quaran often refers to him.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my kind, gentle, truly peaceful at heart lover wasn’t so different from the founder of his religion. It is clearly my own chauvinism and stupidity to get afraid because ignorant, intolerant people who want to perpetuate the Crusades tell me to do so.

With the light of knowledge comes peace. And a deeper, fuller acceptance of myself and how I’ve grown in ways not exactly sanctioned by the faith tradition into which I was born and for the most part still abide within.

I’m so glad that I can finally say a whole hearted yes, that I would not miss out on love and companionship out of misguided belief that having a different religion means that someone’s values are out of line with mine. It would be confusing to raise children in that context, but it might be a truer way of growing up too since God is in all things, not just in a tabernacle or mosque or what have you.

But yeah, things are still evolving with this dude. He might not feel the same way as I do, and I would say openness is really one of my major personal values. We would still have so much getting to know each other to do and to be sure that coming from different cultures we still want basically the same things and are able to communicate effectively.

But if love, like my life, takes on greater richness and meaning when it comes in a form I didn’t expect it to, I will say yes.

And regardless of what happens with this particular relationship, I am so much richer for having enlarged my mind and letting the opening of my heart guide my spirit. Not many people, especially religious people, might feel as I do, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t my path to walk and a valid one.

I feel such peace at having opened myself up further than I thought I could go, and being willing to own what my heart already knew.

Well, peace be with you, Namaste, Shalom, etc.

Love,

MJ

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