“You are religious,” she said, as she poured water into my cup.
She was right. I’d been hedging my comments for so long, wedged into other people’s understanding of what it means to be religious. Not listening to my own inner voice, which has always told me that religious is a personal definition, a valuation of spirituality that no one else can put on you.
She was right, my pastor friend. We were setting out to walk on wet leaf-strewn trails snaking up and around through the woods near her house. It was an unseasonably warm midweek afternoon in the madness before Christmas, and we hadn’t seen each other since before my trip to Israel.
You are religious, she said.
It may have bee in response to a story of my roller-coaster divorce or it might have been in comparison to people I deem as ultra-extreme. No matter; her assertion was truth bespoke.
This night is quiet, the minutes leading up to this reverent of days waited for all the year. The streets I drive along are sprinkled with the occasional moving car but most people are snug inside somewhere, with people they love.
The shops have closed. Most restaurants, too. Groceries have fielded their requisite madness of forgotten ingredients, one more carton of milk.
Even the gas station that sells the delicious Middle Eastern food was shut up for the night. Lights off, pumps stalled.
There is something to be said about the reverence of a day that blankets the world in hope and restoration.
There is something to be said for the belief of redemption, that a single person could come into being for the sole purpose of guarding the souls of all people.
My friend the pastor once said, as a Christian, she believes in resurrection. Or perhaps it was redemption. I believe they are two different concepts.
Both important. Both embedded in a system of belief.
This night, the world around me quiets. There is purpose in movements, gathering and connection.
It has taken years for me to recognize that my beliefs are enough. That the way I do things, that what I observe, that my very knowing of identity and community is everything I need.
The problem with religion is when it runs amok. When it becomes a control mechanism for one person over another, or one person over many.
Yes, we humans created religion for the purpose of instilling order and control, but also so that we would notice the moments and celebrate them, so that we could live happier, more purposefully, more fully.
And yet somewhere along the way, we kept running until everyone else was following us in the race.
You do not need even one person to concur with what you believe for it to matter.
Because whether we gather in a crowded sanctuary to feel the beats of collective voice ringing in our chests or whether we take to the wooded path after a good rain to remember to breathe, it can all be right and profound.
There is no need for validation. You can be right whether anyone else agrees or not.
And so can I.