While we’ve always been told never to bring up money, politics, or religion at the dinner table, sometimes it’s these subjects that can lead to the most insightful discussions. Our perspectives on spirituality and religion are as different as the backgrounds and stories that we carry with us are. This column will showcase students and their relationships with faith and religion in hopes of celebrating the many ways in which we philosophically, mindfully and spiritually make sense of the world around us.
Junior government and English major Miriam Forrester has grown up with faith being an ever-evolving and growing component of her life. While Forrester doesn’t so much identify with any particular religion at the time being, it would be a mistake to assume that spirituality and her experiences with Christianity and Buddhism don’t play a role in her life today. At the time being, Forrester sees gratitude for the faith-based experiences she has had thus far and looks forward to seeing where her spirituality will bring her next.
“From the age of 12 I was probably some kind of atheist,” Forrester stated. Now she’s not so sure. Forrester explained this as she stated, “I don’t know what to define myself as. I grew up with a lot of different traditions because both my parents are Episcopalian priests. My dad has a PhD in theology and writes books about religion and he’s also Buddhist. So, there are a lot of different influences; I went to church every Sunday until I was about 16 and my dad taught me how to mediate.”
Growing up, Forrester thought it was perfectly normal to have differing ideologies like Buddhism and Christianity interacting together. As she got older, Forrester did realize that the rest of the world did not necessarily see it that way. She stated, “My father was actually up to be made bishop when I was ten but then he was denied this role. It was the first time in 77 years someone didn’t get confirmed and it happened because he is also Buddhist. When that happened, it was the first time I figured out that the world didn’t agree with me on what I thought was ‘normal.’ It shifted my perception because I realized the church is this really big thing and my family was just a small part of it.”
Despite this tension Forrester has encountered, she still finds deep value in what she’s learned from both Buddhist and Christian traditions. For Forrester, one of the most formative practices she has continued from the Buddhist side of this story is mediation.
Forrester stated, “I remember getting a meditation bench from my dad that he made himself and then becoming super frustrated because I thought I just had to sit quietly, but the thing is mediation is not just that, it’s much harder. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. It’s still hard for me, too. I have ADHD so there’s just a lot happening all the time. But when I do mediate it helps every aspect of my life. I feel lighter. It feels like you can go through your day softer. Things don’t bother me as much. I might have five meetings and a bunch of classes, but I do it and realize it’s okay.”
Since starting college, Miriam has only found herself gravitating more towards this practice of mediation. Forrester stated, “I do a lot of mediation so while I feel like my spirituality has gotten away from atheism, I don’t know if it’s agnostic, but I know it’s something. I really am considering converting to Buddhism at some point but it’s its own large commitment. Buddhism isn’t really a casual thing, there are actual tenets to live by and it’s an actual philosophical guideline and it’s just as much as a commitment as any other religion and I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that yet.”
When it comes to the Christian side of Forrester’s spiritual upbringing, with two ordained parents it was jarring for Forrester to register that her beliefs are not the same as ones you sing about in the pews. Forrester explained what this relation was like as she stated, “I went to church every Sunday but then all the sudden I realized, ‘Oh no. I don’t think it believe in God.’ I felt guilty because I had to keep going to church and singing hymns and reciting prayers and it all felt really performative. More so than just the doubt I had, it was feeling like I was putting on a show that made me feel guilty. When you’re the daughter of the people in charge, there’s a pressure to act a certain way.”
While Forrester dealt with this guilt, she never really had to worry about whether or not her family or her church community would judge or reject her. Forrester stated, “I really enjoy the fluidity of faith that I was raised in. Everyone was welcome in the religion I grew up in. It was super important to me that my church has been involved with the LGBTQ+ community because I’m not straight. My church has actually led the pride parade in my home town on more than one occasion and all of this means that I’ve never thought I’d have a problem if I choose to stay in the church where I’ve grown up. Whether or not I still believe in everything they value, this has still been a really important thing to me.”
Forrester’s well-rounded spiritual upbringing is one reason why she believes she approaches world with the open mind that she does. She stated, “Religion is not one thing that doesn’t evolve and doesn’t change and doesn’t have room to include things. It has room in it for a lot more ideas and possibilities. Maybe it doesn’t have to be literal and maybe your personal interpretation is just as valid as someone else’s. The way I’ve been raised to see religion has helped me beyond just how I view my spirituality. It’s really helped me in college because it’s shown me that we don’t live in a world where one thing is right, and the other thing is wrong. The existence of a religion doesn’t mean another one is not valid. Your idea can be right and so can mine, they can coexist. They can both be correct and flawed and that’s fine and that’s good and that’s okay.”
Forrester doesn’t know where she lands on a spiritual spectrum, but she embraces that ambiguity. When the days come where she does feel God, she knows it. She stated, “A year ago I would’ve said there’s no God, but I don’t know. The times when there’s something beyond me and my physical reality are when I’m outside. My best friend has a farm in the country and if you go out there in the summer and there’s no clouds you can see the Milky Way and just the way the air smells and the stars look; there’s something else. It’s when I feel really tiny, but I don’t feel alone. It’s little things like when I go outside and it’s cold and my nose gets all tingly. It’s beyond something I can describe. It’s the stillness in the woods when it’s quiet but not quiet, the forest is never quiet. It’s a stillness that’s not still.”
If you’re interested in learning about more Lawrentians and their spiritual journeys, come and read their stories that will be on display outside Stansbury hall throughout the production of Bernstein’s Mass scheduled to be performed Feb. 14-17. This opera tells the story of religion, doubt and spiritual journey. Make sure to come and see it.