A classmate warning me I will go to hell. A boy giving me a 20-minute lesson on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ while we run around on the playground. The rewarding taste of sweet doughnuts after reluctantly agreeing to attend Mass with my cousins.
To this day it surprises me what a strong presence religion has had in my early life considering I don’t identify with one. In elementary school, I really enjoyed being an atheist. It set me apart from the crowd. I thought I was enlightened in the truth that God isn’t real. Though it pains me now to say it, I believed I was better than other people for it.
The homeschool community in the suburbs of Colorado, where I grew up, is a quite Christian one. It seemed almost every day that kids in my homeschool community program would try to educate me on Catholicism, telling me things like, “Jesus sacrificed himself to save us from sin.” I saw it as an attack. It felt as though they were saying I was a bad person simply because I didn’t believe.
The spark that started my better understanding and appreciation for other perspectives was in third grade. I was sitting at a table, having arrived early for class, when a dear friend of mine shyly approached and asked, cautiously, if I would like to join a worship club. I gave my usual reply of, “No, thank you. I don’t believe in God. Thank you for the offer, though.” And she looked me right in the eye and said, “I know. That is why I asked. Rowan, I don’t want you to go to hell.” Her eyes swelled as she held back tears.
Her words sparked something in me like nothing had before. Though the strong words of my other classmates still felt incriminating I realized they were merely doing what they thought was right because they cared. I had thought I was better than these believers, who in the end turned out to have so much heart and compassion that I hadn’t realized before.
One of the aspects of faith I had never understood was prayer. Isn’t it selfish to ask for personal things when so much of the world is in turmoil? Reflecting on it, I now realize the reason for my lack of understanding was that I didn’t have a necessity to pray. What a privilege that is to say. It wasn’t until I felt some hardships that I realized the healing power of asking for help.
My mother, a caregiver for people with disabilities, was wrongly accused of assault and maltreatment. Both of my parents then lost their jobs, leading us to move to Minneapolis almost overnight. It was then that I prayed. While I’m not a believer, the vulnerability of asking for help brought me acceptance and the gift of gratitude for all the simple joys that my life had to offer even in the midst of upheaval in my family.
The most prominent part of my journey with religion has not been the faith aspect, but more so the journey. These changes in perspective, which I have experienced and will continue to experience, help shape who I am and how I interact with the world. I now identify as agnostic and I long to always be discovering new ideas and ways of thinking and feeling. As I continue my education through college and in life, I hope to pursue a career in theatre or teaching. In those careers, I will be able to experience different points of view to share with others, spreading empathy and exploring the world, one perspective at a time.