Discovering Unlikely Enlightenment

In my English 202 class my group of 4 decided to visit three religions to expand our own understanding of other cultures. This is the report we turned in explaining it and about our experiences. I thought it’d be fun to throw up here. Enjoy!

For our Cultural Endeavor project we decided as a group that we wanted to take the objective to heart and find cultures that were truly different from our own. We chose to visit and experience the cultures of three different religions and learn form our differences. We went to Catholic mass in the Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake City, visited the small chapter meeting of the Unitarian Universalists in Springville, and lastly went to the weekly Sunday Love Feast at the Hare Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork. Starting this project each member of our group had their own perceptions about each religion, but we all went united with an open mind looking to learn and understand these religions better.

In report of our cultural project we decided to break the project paper up evenly so each member was given a responsibility. Separate individuals wrote the introduction paragraph and each of the summaries of the religions that we visited within the introduction. We each also wrote our personal responses to our experience, and leave those as a summary.

I think one of the biggest reasons we went to the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Salt Lake City was for the ambiance.  While it was easiest to associate with Catholicism because of the similar Christian background, I believe the most foreign aspect was the setting and process of mass.  I initially appreciated the extreme reverence from start to finish, but it got to be a little overwhelming.   The best word I can think of for the experience would be “traditional.”  While we abstained from taking communion, it was interesting to note the traditional differences between our sacrament and theirs.  Some people would partake of the “body of Christ” and then pass by “the blood of Christ.”  I also found it interesting that those taking communion accepted it from another source, rather than taking it themselves (I.e. “body of Christ” was placed in their mouth and “the blood of Christ” was handed to them in the communal goblet).  Another aspect of mass altered my initial thinking was that the “sermon” portion of mass was segmented into more than just the priest giving one all-encompassing lesson to the parishioners.  Instead, I was interested to see many clerical members reading scripture, leading song (more like chants), and preaching simple lessons.

The Unitarian Universalists are a small bunch; they meet in the Presbyterian chapel in Springville on Sunday evenings and are made up of about fifteen to twenty people, including about eight children. The de facto minister is a woman named Christine who has been filling in for at least a year, waiting for the arrival of a real minister. Based on preliminary research and backed up by the services, the best way to describe Unitarian Universalists is that they are united in their confusion and sincere desire to find the truth. Meetings are mostly based on a protestant format with hymns (we actually sang “For the Beauty of the Earth”) and a sermon, but they also have such unique events as the lighting of the flaming chalice, a time for members to come up and light a candle and share a problem in their lives, and story time. Christine’s sermon that week was an overview of spirituality from ancient to modern times and didn’t so much describe what Unitarians practice so much as describe an array of traditions and methods that they could practice. Unitarians are not Christians and don’t necessarily believe in a God per se, but they do seem to be striving to attain unity with themselves and the universe; I expect, however, that practices and beliefs vary widely from congregation to congregation. As a whole, this was a very positive experience. The congregation, and especially Christine, was welcoming, though a little insecure, and we were invited to return whenever we wanted and bring our friends with us.

The last of our religious outings was to the Hare Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork where every Sunday at 5 p.m. they have a religious service followed by a delicious Indian feast. The services began with 20 minutes or so of chanting where everyone sat on rugs and repeated a particular chant to different rhythms and melodies, which were lead by a man with a two-sided drum in the front of the room. The chanting was followed by a sermon based on the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, an ancient Sanskrit text containing the teachings of Krishna to his friend Arjuna. After the sermon there was a short ceremony where people could go up and be blessed and given a red dot on their forehead. Then everyone got up and danced and chanted as a group for a good long while and then went downstairs for a wonderful vegetarian feast.

Personal Response – Chrissy

My favorite of our group’s outings was attending Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic country I have always been familiar with mass and when I sit in mass I feel a sense of warmth and home. Not in the sense that I feel the doctrine is true, but I love thinking about the cultural and religious heritage we have from the Catholics. I think of my ancestors whom were pious people worshiping in cathedrals because it was the closest they could feel to God. The ceremonies of the Catholic Church are strict and unvarying and thus give a sense of permanence and belonging. My favorite thing to do in cathedrals is to stand in front of the alter where people pray and place their small candles. I stand close enough to feel the warmth of all the candles, lighted by pious people who pray and light a candle with the faith that their prayer will, like the smoke of the candle, continue to rise heavenward to God. I think it is a beautiful symbolism and can’t help but think that God must hear those prayers, offered in sincerity by people of faith.

One thing that struck me about the Hare Krishna services was that the ritualistic chanting and dancing created a strong sense of community. When you participate in something as a group you no longer exist just as an individual or observer but become an active part of something larger. This is a necessary part of this religion where their beliefs are centered on being a community and helping one another.

My personal observation was that of the three religions we visited, the Catholics were the most strict, the Unitarian Univeralists were the most lost, and the Hare Krishnas definitely had the most fun. I was so happy that our group decided to visit different religious services for our cultural endeavor. Religion plays such and integral role in so many of the works that we read in class and it was interesting to go to the actual services and learn more about the values and practices of different religions.

Personal Response – Lorien

We were lucky enough to pick three fairly different religions. The ancient solemnity of Catholic mass was almost the exact opposite of the joyous, hectic dancing and chanting of the Hare Krishnas, which in turn contrasted sharply with the small, quiet, bewildered flock of Unitarian Universalists. As a Latter-day Saint, I was struck by the many truths that all three religions held, and also by the surprising lack of it at times. The sermons in all three places made many valid points and gave sound advice about how to be a better or kinder citizen, but failed to connect that back to the broader framework of salvation that I have been taught all my life.

Of the three religions, perhaps the most comfortable for me was Catholic mass, simply because I’ve had the most exposure to that. When Chrissy and I lived in France it was sometimes impossible to get to an LDS church, either because we were traveling, or because no one could pick us up that week; our chapel was situated on the third floor of a warehouse in a business district on the outskirts of town. In an effort to maintain our morality, we would simply go to mass in the nearest cathedral, accompanied a few times by our Catholic roommate, Rose. My favorite part was always when you got to turn to everyone around you and shake their hands and introduce yourself. Since then I’ve always sort of wished we would do that in our meetings in my ward; just set aside thirty seconds to turn to everyone around you, shake their hands or hug them and give brief expressions of love for each other. We should be doing that anyway, of course, but I love the thought that the sharing of love is part of the service.

I was surprised by how similar many of the teachings at the Hare Krishna temple were to what we talk about in Sacrament Meeting every week. As the man clicked through his PowerPoint presentation, I could envision in my mind my father giving the exact same PowerPoint, but probably wearing a suit, instead of sitting on the floor in a flowing tunic. The entire time, however, I just couldn’t get out of my head the great distress that they didn’t know about Jesus; of course they’ve heard of him, but I wanted to sit down and tell them that they didn’t have to worry so much, because they had an older brother that would help them as much as they were willing. I had the exact same feelings when I talked to my Muslim friends in Jordan, and I am grateful for the perspective that this has given me to strengthen my faith.

Personal Response – Carlyn

I started our cultural endeavor with an open mind that the leaders of the different churches we went to would be welcoming.  I was pretty surprised to find that most of them were.  As expected, at the Catholic church we were greeted at the door, but nothing else was said to us.  I suppose in terms of not wanting to be made to feel like an outsider, this had its perks.  However, I felt much more welcomed, even if I was taken out of my comfort zone, at the two other congregations.  While the Catholic church had a special feeling of pride for staunch traditionalism, it tended to get stuffy and almost uncomfortable.  It was as though people were just supposed to understand what was expected of them, and I felt at times awkward for sticking out.

At the Unitarian Universalist church, it was nice to be apart of a smaller congregation.  The woman who led the lesson was very accessible and appreciated the fact that we were doing something foreign.  Surprisingly, though she never talked about the Savior, I could really feel a lot of His teachings from that meeting.  Principles like hope and charity were abundant and an air of humility was certainly present.

At the Hare Krishna temple I also felt welcomed, but in a very different way.  Instead of the timidity I sensed at the U.U. church, the Krishna’s seemed very enthusiastic about getting each and every person involved in song and dance.  I thought this was a fantastic way of making everyone more comfortable with each other.  I also felt it opened us up to hear the lesson that would be presented afterwards.  Even more so than at the Catholic and U.U. churches (both of which stem from Christian perspectives), the Krishna’s taught the most truth for me personally.  I felt like much of what they preached was similar to Mormonism in its ability to be confidant in its truth while refraining from attacking other churches.  It was also very refreshing to hear from the Krishna leader about all the positive and accepting gestures the LDS church has offered to the Krishna sect.

My overall impression in completing this endeavor was a renewed acceptance that every other religion is just doing the best they can with the amount of knowledge they have.  All were more interesting than I anticipated they would be, and all offered new perspectives into how one worships a higher power.  Most importantly, all reinforced the importance of the fullness of truth for me.  While I recognize that all three of the churches had many wonderful truths to offer, none even came close to offering the quiet peace of the spirit felt in a sacrament meeting.  I think that when we can branch out to find the religious good that lies beyond our original understanding we are better able to identify just what make the Church so true.

Personal Response – Adam

I am really glad that I had such a wonderful group to learn from and help me understand better as we visited these three very different religions. Each religion helped me understand something more about my own faith, and it helped me understand the wide spectrum of truth seeking that is found within humanity. From the deep-rooted, strict traditions of Catholic mass, to the open minded liberality of the Unitarian Universalist’s worship, to the highly disciplined and surprisingly logical peace abiding ideology of the Hare Krishna followers, each brought an aspect of true worship that helped clarify what I live in my own faith.

The Catholic mass was quite memorable for me because it was my first time going to mass. I saw the progeny of an unguided branch of Christianity that had its doctrine and ritual based on the doctrines of my own faith. It made me somewhat sad, as I saw a crowd of believers go through the rites of worship, to realize that above all it seems the Catholics believe on a form of hope in their rites more than faith in their actions. They have moved away from the truth, which has separated them from communion with God, though I am sure there is communion there, it pales in comparison of the worship that I have experienced. All the same I felt an element of truth behind the practices I saw. It helped me to understand that these people were living a form of truth; they just did not experience the complete truth.

I then found sympathy with the Unitarian Universalists as I saw a small group of not quite believers nor followers but open-minded people willing to listen to the lessons of their volunteer leader, Christine. These people seemed to almost be hoping for something to fall into their laps instead of seeking out, or thinking out, the truth of the world around them. With that attitude they also had an ideology of acceptance towards all faith, so much that Christine at one point up spoke on the worship found in Karate and other disciplined martial arts. I agree with my group members when they say that there was a feeling of being lost there. It all seemed to be coupled with a complacent attitude towards working out the truth. It seemed like the members were not willing to discover truth, simply discuss it enough to satisfy temporal needs. It gave me a strong desire to teach them about my religion more than any other religion because these people were neither condemning religion nor acting on their faith, but simply were content learning about being spiritual.

Our last religion was the Hindu sect of Hare Krishna. Having an understanding of Buddhist and Shinto, both polytheistic religions, I did not think that aspect of their doctrine would surprise me. On the contrary, I was completely taken aback as I saw so much discipline and truth from such a basically different religion from Christianity. The lesson that one of the leaders gave was as good as any scriptural lesson you would find at church. Here were leaders who for more than thirty years worked every day at living their religion and understanding their worship. The knowledge taught was refined and pure of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I was so happy to discover. These followers have given their life to disciplining themselves in the goodness they had, which was so pure of evil it motivated me to do the same within myself. It became an instrument of strengthening my faith and my willingness to live what I have learned.

Conclusion

Each person came into this project with perceptions and expectations of our own, but we have each left better understanding the culture of humanity. We all agree that we have found unlikely enlightenment as we have experienced a part of faith and worship we regularly do not encoutner within our personal cultures.

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