The Words of the Nakai Family
As a child, I was always mesmerized by a bookshelf in my house filled with books about different religions. There was something sacred about these worn paperbacks and leather-bound volumes. Without even reading any of their content and before knowing the difference between Buddhism and Islam, I looked at this shelf as a sort of shrine. I've always been fascinated by religion. There's something beautiful about faith and the ability of the human spirit to believe in something unseen; the need to find something beyond the physical, something that stirs the soul.
When I was a child, religion was like magic. I remember light streaming in through stained glass windows of the Christian church that we used to attend, and believing that if Jesus were to touch the cut on my figure it would be miraculously healed. At night I would talk to a God without any doubt that I might be heard. Over the years, my search to find and maintain that magical thing called faith, has lead me to explore many of the various religions I used to only marvel at in books. Each has taught me something different; gifts that I have carried with me on my path.
I realized early on that I was different from the other kids at Sunday school. I even remember arguing with a friend on the playground about how Jesus had already come back and that he wasn't supposed to die on the cross. That was before the trusting innocence of my childhood was shattered. In third grade my family was asked to leave that church because we were Unificationists, and for the first time I learned that I had to hide my faith.
This started a love-hate relationship with traditional Christianity. It was an odd paradox. I felt resentful and constrained by the persecution and rigidity I perceived in most Christians, and yet, for most of my adolescence I pretended to be one. I went to youth group with my friends, helped out with vacation Bible school (at a different church, of course) and even performed in a Christian band.
This is one thing that Christians do better than anyone else in my opinion -- community. The Bible says that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). I've stood outside with my hands in the air to pray and worship with ten thousand other people at a Christian Rock festival. That communal experience is absolutely intoxicating. There is a reason the Christian church has become a model for so many others. It is a well-oiled machine that has stood the test of time. Over the years I've made my peace with whatever bitterness I have held and can now look back on all the many gifts that my time with Christianity has brought me.
So thank you, Christianity, for my first experiences with God, for teaching me about Jesus, for teaching me how to pray, for teaching me to believe in miracles and to find God in the fellowship of others.
When I entered college, my life of faith took a dramatic turn. It was a time of confusion, discovery, challenge and enlightenment. I call my first semester "the period of doubting." Everything that I had learned and believed was called into question. I doubted my belief in my faith and in True Parents. I doubted my conviction to receive the Marriage Blessing. I even doubted in my religion and in True Parents. It was like stumbling through a dark cave with no flashlight, searching for any glimpse of daylight. Thankfully, I found it, however small a crack it might have been, and I let it guide me out. From this turmoil I came to a deeper relationship with faith. I shed the adolescent cloak of mere obedience, and wrapped myself in the warmth of God's love. This was the beginning of my grown-up life of faith, one in which I would take responsibility for my own spirituality and really begin to own the values and teachings that I believed in.
I've always felt a certain affinity with Muslims because of the very prevalent culture of arranged marriage in the Islamic world. I remember doing a report in my World Cultures class in school on the Five Pillars of Islam. It wasn't until college, however, that I got a chance to actually meet someone of the Islamic faith.
As part of CARP, I helped organize a series of Religious Symposiums at different colleges in Philadelphia. Students representing different faiths would sit on a panel and discuss a pre-set topic. One of the events ended up being cosponsored by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at my college. So I ended up working closely with a student named Shahid, who was the president of the MSA at the time.
We had to schedule our meetings around prayer times. I even waited once when our meeting went long and he had to leave in the middle to do Salah (ritual prayer). At our first meeting he seemed shy and withdrawn. I remember wondering if he was really all that excited about doing the event. Later, I received an email from him apologizing for not shaking my hand or looking me directly in the eyes. He explained that it was part of his faith to not have physical contact with women before he was married, and that it wasn't meant to
Thank you, Taoism, for teaching "the way," that the universe is made up of Yin and Yang, that we find our place in harmony with everything and for helping me see how amazingly revolutionary and powerful my own faith really is.
Considering that I have had several friends and teachers who are Buddhist, and that I studied it in college, it is surprising that it has really only been within the last year that Buddhism has been more to me than those cute little statuettes and bald-headed monks. While I was pregnant with my second son, I got turned on to a blog that applies Buddhist philosophy to everyday life. It became part of my daily ritual. Instead of the news with my morning coffee, I turned on the computer and read articles from ordinary people sharing simple wisdom they gained through struggle or life experience. One of the parts I liked best was actually the comment section. The amazing thing was that every day there was at least one person who commented, "I really needed this today!" or, "I feel like this was written just for me!" It was a community of seekers; people who believe in the hard work of creating change from within. The energy of all of these positive and peaceful thinkers (even through a computer screen) was contagious. Through other people's struggles and revelations I saw a living, breathing religion. Yes, Buddhism has a very ancient history just like other religions, but to see how people use it and practice it in their daily lives is fascinating and it made me realize, they are just like me. We are all in this together.
The teachings of mindfulness, compassion and meditation found me at the perfect time. Only a couple months after my son was born, I found myself in a tidal wave of sickness and a series of unforeseen events. You know when you have "one of those days?"
Well, mine lasted for about a month. It ended with me in the emergency room being given fluids through an IV for dehydration. It was a wakeup call that I needed to take better care of myself physically and since Sundays now meant a day alone at home with a baby and a three-year-old, my spirituality had taken a hit as well. I decided that Yoga might kill two birds with one stone. I found a Mommy and Me Yoga class nearby that I could attend with the baby while my older son was at preschool. It took a few classes for me to feel really confident, but the nice thing about yoga is that there is always room to grow -- you can meet your body wherever it is. I suppose that can be said for most forms of physical activity, but there is something different about the intention of coming to the mat.
The discipline of yoga is about being kind to your body. Sure, you push your limits as well and I have discovered that my body can do things I never would have imagined! The secret to yoga though, is that it's just as much about the stillness of the body as the movement. Patience, peace, compassion and staying present, all come into play. For me, yoga and meditation have become a beautiful experience of mind-body unity that I can practice on a daily basis. It even helps me have the energy to make it to Sunday service again, kids in tow!
I can't help but feel an ancestral connection to Buddhism as well. My grandmother on my father's side practiced and even taught yoga into her eighties. On the Japanese side of my husband's family, there is a long ancestry of Buddhist priests, including his grandfather. Perhaps they all had something to do with me finding Buddhism in the first place.
Thank you Buddhism, for gratitude, mindfulness, wellness, and peace. For the idea that the path to world peace is peace within oneself.
It has been an interesting journey one that is far from over. I fully believe that the reason I have been able to receive these gifts is that I was born into the Unification Movement. Because I was taught that all religions are a means to connect people with God, I have been able to freely explore various faiths with reverence for each. Because I believe that one day all religions will be united through a higher truth, the barriers of faith did not constrain me in my search for God. Instead of one religion being the enemy of another, I am able to take the many gifts from each and apply them to my daily life, a path that eventually has led me back to a deeper understanding of myself and the beautiful faith that I was born into. Every day is a chance to learn, grow, love and discover.
Thank you Unificationism, for the truth that we really are one family under God.