Releasing Divisive Inhibitions: A Hindu Student Reflects on Catholic Mass
By: Ayan Mandal
December 19, 2014
Throughout my six years in my evangelical Protestant school, I was always conflicted as to whether or not I should sing along to the hymns during chapel. My first years, I would never. The services were alien to me and made me shrivel with discomfort. I figured that my Hindu faith exempted me from engaging with the surrounding religious body. I remembered my mother’s warnings to not let my teachers convert me, so I drew a solid line between my faith and theirs.
During my later years, I gained a more interfaith perspective and decided that I could show my faith towards God with the Christian hymns. I would get weird looks from those who knew my religious background, but I would explain to anyone who cared enough to ask that I believed that all religions worshipped the same God, so there was no contradiction.
Last Sunday, I went to Catholic Mass, and I couldn’t decide if the experience was more analogous to my early years at my Christian school, or my later years. Like those early years, it was a new faith tradition at a new school, and the unfamiliar energy of the atmosphere brought back memories of fear and trembling during the first Protestant chapel service I attended.
But had I learned nothing from my previous experiences? Hadn’t I learned that the difference could be overcome, that I could adjust and learn to love this new faith tradition if I had just put in the effort? They say that the Hindu saint Sri Ramakrishna would find God no matter what religious service he attended: I doubt that it was always easy for him initially to adapt to the new customs of each different religious tradition. Could I, like him, find God here?
As the reception of the Eucharist approached, the question augmented like a burgeoning balloon. As those sitting beside me lined up to receive the Communion from the priest, the pressure blossomed, not sinisterly, but I felt the same chills that you feel as you near the climax of a rollercoaster ride. Do I partake, or do I merely observe? Do I emphasize my individuality as a Hindu, or do I submit myself to this foreign religious body?
Well, I was hungry, so I ate the bread.
But I don’t have to be Catholic to find a metaphor here. My mind was clogged with apprehensions, preconceptions of division and separation between my faith and the faith before me. Although the unfamiliarity teased me from my comfort zone, I had to regress and learn a new ritual the way a child would. I did what was natural. I accepted Christ’s flesh, in the form of the wafer of bread.
This doesn’t make me Catholic, and nor does it make me less Hindu. It just means that I don’t draw lines, and that I am willing to worship God in all of His various manifestations.