Last Sunday, I went to Nidaros Cathedral to the service that marks the start of Advent. It is called lysmesse which means Light Service. Although we are not a Christian family, we have been going to this service for some years because of our children who have been in the Scouts, and recently, our youngest has joined one of the choirs connected to the cathedral.
I enjoy this service. The cathedral’s pastor has always a very nice sermon that I feel is addressed even to the youngest. A message of hope and a reminder of what is important to prioritise during this time of the year and otherwise. It feels comforting to be inside such a magnificent building, protected by the cold, surrounded by beauty and light, listening to the beautiful voice of the Girl’s Choir.
This year, because of the pandemic, very few people were able to attend the service. The Cathedral opened up for only fifty people to make sure they could keep the safety guidelines. I was lucky to be asked to come as support for the choir.
During the service, I sat alone, close to the choir. Calmness started to take over the place. Dimmed lights, beautiful stained glass windows, everyone silently listening to the pastor and the choir. I started to think about older generations who lived in a world that looked quite different from ours and to imagine the feeling of coming into such a magnificent building, in the middle of Winter. Maybe times were hard, maybe some of them were also anxious about what the future might bring. So they came to their holly place, to listen to their spiritual leader. To get some comfort, to regain hope.
I grew up in Mexico, where the majority of people are Catholic, but my parents were so disappointed with the Church even since they were kids, that they consciously decided not to raise their children into the Catholic religion. My father had seen the church in his neighbourhood receive money from the poorest who sometimes didn’t have enough to feed their children at the end of the month, while the priest lived in a big house and drove in a luxury car. My mum couldn’t make any sense of the sermon which often seemed more like a reprimand towards the congregation. There was a clear distance between the priest and the congregation. A relationship of power too. It felt like the priest was the intermediate between people and God, and he had the power to decide who is close to God and who is not.
I have studied Art History and I teach History to middle schoolers, so I know of the things humans have done in the name of religion, and I understand why, many people, especially in the West, have decided to distance themselves from it. In addition, especially in the Christian tradition, many of the texts used during the liturgy don’t make any sense if they aren’t explained properly. They seem so detached from people’s reality.
Still, the older I get, the more I study Yoga, the more convinced I am that we do not benefit from living a life without spirituality but spirituality requires individual work. It requires that each individual takes on the work of seeking, exploring, experimenting, questioning, reflecting and internalising. We have been so disappointed and critical of religion because it has been misused for power and oppression, but if we peel off the layers of institutions, rituals and systems, the message at the core of each religion is the same: seek the love inside you and spread it around you. Each spiritual tradition has its core values that we are encouraged to cultivate in order to live a better life and create peace and harmony around us.
I don’t think we need to be part of a religious community in order to be better human beings, but I do think that we need to be conscious of what kind of values we want to live up to, and acknowledge that each and every individual in this world has an important role to play to take care of herself, other people and the environment. There is more meaning to life than running from one thing to another to tick off all the boxes in our to-do list, there is more meaning to life than acquiring more things. We have lessons to learn in order to grow.
I also think that we have the responsibility to seek what makes sense for us, maybe also the responsibility to seek for someone who can guide us in the right direction? Not just follow each other like sheep either towards or away from religious institutions.
Life is unstable, life can bring us down to our knees, and we need to take care of our mind and our heart. In the world we live now, we are made to believe that peace of mind will come from acquiring things, from seeking entertainment and satisfaction in the senses. Why would I choose to watch a soap opera instead of listening to some uplifting words from a spiritual leader? Why would I choose entertainment instead of a walk in the woods? I think many of us have gotten accustomed to hide our fears and worries behind stuff instead of looking into the bigger picture. I think that we would benefit more from feeding our minds with words of hope and meaning than filling them with information we don’t need. At least ask ourselves from time to time, what can I feed my mind with that will bring lasting peace?
I think we are reaching the point where we have been at the two extremes. One being following religion blindly and being lured by the few who got sick with power and delusion, the other being lost in our day to day life forgetting to seek for something bigger than our wants.