Everyday Ethics

3302836427_fc7c735fe5.jpgI recently fielded a call from my mother about my ring size. Though my immediate fear was that this might concern my still-unmarried status, it turns out she was more worried about my health.

How does my ring size involve my health? Well, it wasn’t clear to me at first either. Turns out she had consulted a priest about what the future held for me. Though normally my mother stops short at anything resembling fortune telling (I did, after all, get my pragmatism from her), after listening to a few things the priest (a stranger, located in India) had to say about my personality, she decided that perhaps an exception should be made.

“He said that before I worry about you getting married, I should worry about your health. Apparently there are some bad times ahead.” Hmm, should I be anxious about this bit of news?

To summarize, the priest suggested my mother perform a puja (a religious rite) in my name, and bless a ring that would be made for me, a ring I would be expected to always wear. Now, I don’t wear rings. And if I do, I expect them to match my fashion sense. When I explained this to my mom, she asked me plaintively, “Is wearing a ring too much to ask for your good health?” Sigh. “I know you don’t believe in this, but don’t you believe in God??” Double sigh!

I’ve always considered myself to be a very spiritual person; at an earlier point in my life, I would have described myself to be religious. While my parents never forced the Hindu religion down my throat, they taught my brother and I what they felt we needed to know, and left the rest of the journey up to us.

My journey over the last 29 years resulted in a deep respect and fascination for my culture and Hinduism, but an inability to throw myself – with full faith – into an organized religion. So, believing as I do in a higher power, but unwilling to commit to the practices of a religion, I did my best to walk the shaky line of non-affiliation and respecting my cultural and familial beliefs.

While this hasn’t always been easy (especially when it involves common Hindu practices such as fasting or waking up at an “un-Godly” hour), I’ve been content to participate in rituals that my mom wholeheartedly believes in. I love her deeply, and I want to respect what she loves. Besides, I strongly believe that my early education in the Hindu philosophy shaped who I am today, how I treat others, and how my morals take part in my daily actions.

Back to the phone call, I eventually promised to wear the ring. However, I’ve reached a point where I wonder if I’m actually being more disrespectful to those who truly believe in these sacred rituals. In my mind it’s one thing to go to temple and participate in ceremonies I find both culturally fascinating and personally comforting; it’s another thing altogether to take the faith my mother believes in so strongly and wear the burden of it (in this case literally) while internally rolling my eyes.

Or do I have it backwards? After all, I’ve seen dozens of my Christian friends wear a cross, and only a few of them attend church. Or, on the other hand, there was the controversy last year when a non-Catholic took Communion at Tim Russert’s funeral.

Am I simply being respectful to my culture and heritage? Should I continue to participate in acts of faith for which I have no faith?

Image by Diganta Talukdar.

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