On Religious Traditions

Justin Trudeau's new cabinet is all about diversity and openness. I was thrilled to watch the swearing-in of these new ministers — 15 men and 15 women — who together embody the multicultural Canada we all know and love. It is an appropriate and daring move to make a Sikh, such as Harjit Sajjan, the Minister of National Defence. When asked why he valued gender equality in his cabinet, Justin replied, "because it's 2015." Brilliant in its simplicity.

Politics aside, I have always been interested in world religions. Though I was raised Catholic, I had the good fortune of being born into a family of ex-Protestant hippies. My parents towed me to church, where I played with toys while eating Sun-Maid raisins in the pew. When I was old enough, my mum would take me to rosary nights in the chapel. I never really knew what I was saying, but I found the repetition of the Hail Mary comforting, both in French and English. 

Je vous salue, Marie pleine de grâce;
le Seigneur est avec vous.
Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes et Jésus,
le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.
Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu,
priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs,
maintenant et à l’heure de notre mort.

Sometimes, I would deliberately recite it in French, just to feel the 'distancing effect' of a foreign language. I suppose this is why I have always been drawn to Latin masses. Latin is much more meditative, especially when as a child you don't know what the verses actually mean.

I stubbornly resisted Reconciliation and the following 'Confirmation' sacrament, during elementary school. Why did I need a priest to intercede on my behalf? I wanted to say sorry to God myself! It was only following my eating disorder in high school that I decided to get confirmed. I had gone through hell, and the fact that I had survived the ordeal confirmed my belief in a Higher Power.

Fast forward a couple years, and I was drinking mead with a busload of nuns in an Irish castle. This is the closest I ever came to entering the nunnery. My grandmother, mother, and I took a tour of Celtic UK from Edinburgh to Dublin. I still have the bottle of Holy Water in my dresser drawer. We saw fairy trees, fairy rings, and secret grottos draped in rosaries. And churches. Lots and lots of churches. I befriended a withering woman named Mary, who sat at the front of the bus due to carsickness. We were always terrified she would die mid-trip which, thankfully, she didn't. I was the youngest person on the bus by at least forty years, which was quite the experience. That pilgrimage deepened my connection to the past and to my ancestors who were from the UK.

Life got busy after that. I neglected going to Church, and eventually drifted off to a Buddhist temple in northeast Calgary. One of the drawbacks of the Calgary Catholic Board of Education is that, as a child, everyone you interact with is Christian. Since graduating high school, my friends have come from as many backgrounds as Justin's cabinet. They have been Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Dutch-Orthodoxes, Agnostics, and Atheists. One ardently Catholic friend insists that God is only present in the physical structure of the 'Church,' while another calls the Rocky Mountains her temple.

Though I value the community-feel of my Catholic upbringing, I also believe in exposing children to different systems of belief. Indeed, it is often this exposure that confirms and strengthens our own resolve to become 'good' people; to maintain or thoughtfully alter those traditions passed from our parents and grandparents to us. "Just because something is a tradition, that doesn't make it right," as Obama says, speaking of women's oppression.

Still, as I see more of the world and its religions, I return again and again to my Catholic upbringing. To quote the fourteenth Dalai Lama:

I always tell my Western friends that it is best to keep your own tradition. Changing religion is not easy and sometimes causes confusion. You must value your tradition and honour your own religion.

Even now, in 2015, we are still learning to walk that tightrope between tradition and innovation. In politics as in life, there is no point in converting for novelty's sake. Tolerance and curiosity are all that's needed.