Yesterday was Palm Sunday. For the first time all semester (I know, I'm a bad person!), I managed to find a church to go to. I needed it; the Gospel was the wrong reading (You don't read the Passion from Mark on Palm Sunday!), the songs were horribly cheesy, and the words were just different enough that I couldn't recite along, yet coming out of mass I had the same feeling that I always have after going to church: a kind of inner peace, and fellowship with the people around you. It doesn't matter that we came from different countries and backgrounds, or that their version of Catholicism was completely different from my version. For an hour, we sat together on the floor and worshiped, together despite our complete separateness. To me, that's one of the most powerful things about religion--it's power to bring people together and remind us that we're not alone.
One of my favorite things about India is how present God is everywhere. Religion is a huge part of people's lives, and not like it is in the US, where we go to church and then forget about it for the rest of the week. One of the first questions we're asked is what religion we are, and then a conversation invariable ensues about the similarities and differences between Hinduism and Christianity, and how there is really only one God. I have a friend here who grew up Hindu, but now proclaims his atheism, since he sees Hinduism as a way of perpetrating the caste system and he doesn't agree with yet. And yet, after I'd known him about a week and he had continued telling me about how he doesn't believe in God, he turns to me and says, "I find God in other people, and I try to show it by helping them" (ok, maybe in slightly more stilted English than that). Well...yeah...that's God. Actually, that's religion at it's best, without whatever political baggage it carries, which is what he disagrees with. The same friend wants me to tell him stories from the Bible, yet more proof of the complete religious tolerance that's present here. There is no tension between religions (well, among individuals, speak to the religions as entities and you'll find a change--take the violence in Ayodha several years ago, where Hindus attacked the mosque that was covering Rama's birthplace) and there tends to be a widespread acceptance that God is God, it is only how one chooses to worship and acknowledge the Divine that differs.
In the church I went to last Sunday St. John and Mary were both decorated like the deities in a Hindu Temple would be, with clothes and flowers and flashing lights. And a few nights ago I saw a deity being brought on procession, with music and parades--much the way that my church used to have a parade for St. Anthony on his feast day every year, when we would carry him around the block, with the whole congregation following and singing. Maybe the two aren't as different as they might seem.