Thursday, December 15, 2011

Observing others' religious traditions

I cannot believe that I have gone this long without writing about religion.  It has to be one of the biggest discussion-starters in travel, and lo and behold, I've overlooked it!

That is, I've overlooked it in my writing.  Religion has been a major theme of my travels, actually, and I am really grateful for my travel experience, because it has informed so much of what I know about religion.  For anyone who keeps track of these things, I don't follow any one religion, but I am an active student of many religions.  I love reading about the practices of other cultures, and have really valued any opportunity I have gotten to view these practices in action.

As an outsider in someone else's spiritual practice, though, whether it is because you are visiting their temple or an observer or prayer ritual, or, in certain places (beautiful chaotic India comes to mind, as does Egypt) where religion is part of the everyday experience, it can be incredibly awkward.  The last thing I would want to do is offend someone, and the second-to-last would be to treat practitioners as though they are animals in a zoo, photographing their practice and buildings and art to death, and pretending to be some amateur anthropologist.

This all, of course, ties into my deep self-consciousness at being an outsider (and my simultaneous adoration for it).  If I can put that aside for one moment, I want to say that some of my favorite moments in my life have been the moments where I have been able to personally interact with others' spirituality.

-Prayer in Cairo, where I spent time amongst the women and children in the quiet chaos of the crowds.

-Recharging at al-Azhar mosque when Cairo became too hectic for my soul.

-Turning my prayer beads over in my hands when tuck in the flash flooding of the Sinai peninsula (I was busily sending positive energy to the axles of our taxi, and the people with no clean drinking water...)

-Seeing Cairenes stop everything to become a mass of prostrating bodies five times a day

-Learning to protocol for visiting Hindu temples, such as the quirky Bull Temple

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-Circling the stupa at the "Monkey Temple" in Kathmandu

-Visiting the Boudha stupa, the largest in the world (and then eating on a rooftop overlooking it in the afternoon light).  How much work it must be to make the lotus pattern on it...

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-Being exposed to the art in every church in Barcelona

-Having the Sagrada Familia truly knock me speechless (oh, you French teenagers on a school trip, how loud you were...!)

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What spiritual or religious practices have informed you?  Has traveling changed any of your perspectives on religion?

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