Saint Ambrose Catholic Church in Albany. Photo By Linjun Fan.
The article below is written by Madeleine Miller-Bottome. Madeleine is a senior at Albany High School, and also a well-known singer in the community.
I have been going to church for 11 years and have recently decided to begin the process of being confirmed. With my own apprehensions and hesitations at the thought of committing myself to being a Catholic, I found myself wondering if there were any other people my age who found strength and identity in their faith while I was feeling so unsteady with mine. As I begin my journey into what it means to truly practice a religion-I wanted to talk with a few students who have already made this discovery.
The Eightfold Path
In the fifth grade, Lia Kato’s parents approached her and her sister with books about Buddhism and Catholicism and told them to choose which religion they wanted to practice: Kato chose Buddhism. Kato attends Sunday services where she chants in Sanskrit and listens to stories illustrating themes like gratitude or interdependence. She is also a member of a youth group. “I try and follow the eight principles, the eightfold path, and the right view.
“It’s easier and somewhat harder following a religion that no one else does, or very few people do. It feels like a minority, but there’s been no prejudice so far because no one really knows about it,” Kato said.
“I like how I feel after I’ve gone to church. I feel like I’m doing something to make myself better, and ultimately the community better, so that’s pretty cool. That by following my religion I’m bringing peace.”
This Love and This Bond
Rachel Krow-Boniske has grown up in the Jewish religion. Two summers ago, she went on a trip to Israel with a group of teens from the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay. There, she visited the Wailing Wall. “It’s a connection all Jews have. I never expected it to be so powerful. I was standing there surrounded by Jews everywhere who had this same common thing. It was such an emotional connection that I never expected to have—but it’s just this thing that unites all people.
“[discovering] this connection reminded me what my main community is-which is Jewish. This is my world this is what Judaism is, this love and this bond. . .I have this comfort I guess, is the best word, in Judaism.”
Believing in the Unseen
Barnaby Lee, whose father became a Baptist minister 12 years ago, lives a life in which the practice of religion and family are one. Along with attending regular services on Sundays, he attends youth services on Friday evenings where middle school to college students get together, eat, and do Bible study.
“There’s so many religions in the world these days, it’s easy for you to get persuaded, so it’s good to get educated in what you believe in, so you can be strong in what you believe in.
“The general view of Christians is a negative thing,” Lee said about the challenges of being a practicing Christian in this community. He specifically criticizes the aggressive conversion efforts of denominations such as Jehovah’s Witnesses for giving Christianity a bad name.
“There’s a way you have to approach somebody. . . if you approach it like, ‘you guys are condemned,’ they’re not gonna be open to what you’re trying to say, so it’s kind of defeating the purpose.”
So what does he get from all this? “From Monday to Friday I’m not going to church, and y’know, I kinda forget about God easily. Then like, going every week refreshes it and brings back the reality that I have to be aware [of God].”
“Faith is believing something that can’t be seen. You can say ‘I can’t see God’ but I’ve seen people get healed, so I think that’s a way of seeing God. So I would say faith is believing something that’s not logical. Every religion has faith, most of the gods in every religion can’t be seen . . . Faith is something you believe in. It’s not ‘real,’ it’s not ‘logical’ but it exists.”
Having God On The Mind
Sophomore Sara Aghaee is a practicing Muslim. She wears the head covering, hijab, and prays five times a day. On a daily basis, being a Muslim is “just having God on your mind all the time. . .before every decision you make you have to think, is this the right thing to do in terms of my religion and morally.”
But Aghee sometimes finds it to be challenging to be a Muslim in this society. “Islam is looked down upon [in this society], so in that sense it’s hard. Just going out on the street, people that don’t even know you give you dirty looks.” She admitted that there was more acceptance in this community, and that she has both Muslim and non-Muslim friends who are very understanding.
“For me? It just feels good to follow your belief because God is asking you to do something and you’re fulfilling God and you know God is going to be happy with you.”
When asked to define what the word faith meant, she readily replied, “Faith is when you truly actually believe something. When you have faith, you actually practice it and when you have total faith in something you’ll do everything for it, really.”
Do we belong to a religion? Or does religion belong to us? Do we become a part of it? Or is it a part of us? It is extraordinary to think that at this age when we are all trying to figure out who we are politically, socially, and culturally, that some of our peers are in touch with their faith. Whether it is serving and acting for and within a community, having a relationship with your priest, your rabbi, yourself, or God, it is a plane of existence that gives people meaning and, most remarkably, a feeling of identity and purpose.
*The article was originally published on the Cougar, a monthly newspaper of Albany High School.