Sorry guys, I have written quite a few drafts but have been too lazy to polish my writings and post them here. Yes, laziness. I really have no other better excuses.
Anyways, here is one that I finally take the time to turn into a complete piece of writing. These are just some thoughts of Mormonism (I’m in Utah) and religions in general. Please excuse the long post. I just can’t help myself!
As soon as I knew a private school in Sandy, Utah admitted me through the ASSIST exchange program, I typed “utah” in the search bar. Listed in one of the search suggestions was the phrase “utah mormons”, which made the least sense to me and I soon forgot about it. But when my host dad emailed me later, saying “In case you are wondering, we are not Mormons.”, he brought back the intriguing mystery. Mormonism turns out to be a religion, and Utah seems to be quite a religious state. Coming from a country where spirituality and religion are often separated, I find my background beneficial in my journey of exploring the hub of Mormonism.
Excited as I was to arrive at Salt Lake City, I wondered how I would fit in this new community. At school, almost all of my friends (even the international ones) are Mormon. In my neighborhood, everyone knows each other well as they spend a large chunk of their time together in the local church. Considering the semi-Buddhist culture that I grew up in, this is a huge change. It is hard to believe what a religious community I have now become a part of. My zero knowledge on Mormonism made me feel uncomfortable, and so I contacted the missionaries to learn more about the religion.
During the weekly meetings I indeed learn a lot about Mormonism: my vocab now includes words such as “ward”, “priesthood”, and “tabernacle”. However, throughout my conversation with the missionaries, I find myself inquire them mostly about things such as their feelings when they pray or what going to church means to them. In short, the spiritual life is what I care most about rather than the sole theology.
While spirituality is often initiated by a certain religion, I believe that it is still possible to be spiritual without being religious. Although Vietnam can be seen as an atheist nation, we are by no mean unspiritual. We worship our ancestors and go to the pagoda monthly, even though more than eighty percent of the population do not have a religion. I do not have a religion myself, but I also visit the pagoda often to meditate and to pray to an anonymous God, who has gradually become an important part of my spiritual life.
The influence of spirituality on our everyday activities cannot be underestimated; in fact, it has the most power to make positive changes in our life. My interest for spirituality developed since I was a little girl, and my first exposure was through Roman Catholicism rather than Buddhism. My aunt, who lives in the U.S, visited my family and brought with her some Catholic magazines. I can still recall vividly how a beautiful picture of Mother Maria hypnotized me. The image touched my juvenile soul, and I have been keeping the picture ever since. Just like the transcendental feeling that nature often brings, the simple peacefulness and grace the painting evokes empower and motivate me. Gradually, I start to have faith in the power of spirituality to enrich our lives.
What I have observed in the Utahn Mormons further enhances the possibility to be spiritual as well as gain spiritual insights in a non-religious way. I sometimes join the local church’s activities or my neighbors’ family in worshiping, and I imagine such meetings to be full of discussion on religious theology which will likely alienate me. Indeed, such discussion contributes a large part in all these events; nevertheless, I am always able to find sympathy and understanding when people start to share their life experiences based on the scripture insights that they discuss earlier.
For example, I once attended a talk given by a newly-returned missionary from Tanzania who climbed mount Kilimanjaro and encountered people from all walks of life. The young missionary’s reflection of his journey enriched my experience as a Vietnamese exchange student in Salt Lake City. Indeed, he contributed more than just theological knowledge when he spoke about his struggle with Swahili or how he dealt with homesickness and cultural differences. “Great insights,” he said, his eyes filled with passion, “do not come only from sacred documents, but also from this eye-opening experience that I have been so blessed to be a part of.” He brought spiritual inspiration as he spoke, even to a non-Mormon like myself.
We tend to associate spirituality with religion, and as a result we often restrict ourselves from both acquiring and sharing our spiritual insights with people from other systems of belief. Nevertheless, anything related to spirituality should not be about being different or similar, right or wrong. I find Mormon doctrines greatly different from those of Buddhist and Catholic that I’m more familiar with; however, the differences cannot prevent me from enriching my spiritual life: they add more meanings to it.
Xuan – The Waterford School, Sandy, UT