“Pan de vida, cuerpo del Señor,” our tiny choir sang, our third grade voices filling St. Basil’s Catholic Church. The congregation sang the next part: “Cup of Blessing, blood of Christ the Lord.” I could see my mother and sister standing side-by-side in the front row, singing along. To my left, Father Dan was beginning to rise. It was his turn to sing. “At this table, the last shall be first.” He lifted his arms beneath the heavy robe and motioned us all to join in on the last part. “Poder es servir, porque Dios es amor.” Even through the glare of the bright light shining on us, I could see a wave of colorful faces all swaying to Mr. Montinero’s piano solo. I closed my eyes as he dragged his fingers along the keyboard, and I prayed to a God whom I loved.
“The presence of the Lord is here,” the head of the Christian church sang, the instruments behind him still warming up. I barely opened my mouth to sing along, even though it was my favorite song. My fifteen-year-old mouth simply could not be seen praising the Lord surrounded by my classmates. I felt embarrassed to show them the religious side of me. So I let the choir sing for me, lifting their hands until they hit their final note, a giveaway that Pastor Richard was on his way to the stage to pray with us. I closed my eyes and did not feel ashamed, for it was just me and God. So I lifted my hands slightly, knowing no one would see, and I prayed to a God whom I loved.
“Oh Lord, how excellent,” the women's choir of the Baptist church sang, while I watched old ladies in their big hats nod their heads to the music. We all clapped our hands and stomped our feet to the music pulsing in our hearts. Everyone from Pastor Lea, to his deacons, and even the children were dancing. Occasionally, someone with the microphone would ask us if we felt the Holy Spirit in the room, and as loud as I could, I would scream “Yes!” This time, eighteen years old and surrounded by classmates, I didn’t care if anyone saw me praising. I closed my eyes right there in the middle of the congregation, and I prayed to a God whom I loved.
A beautiful violin solo was played by a student at the La Sierra University Church. I looked around at the people of the church, and every single one of them was in a trance, enjoying the music together. Although there were no words, one could feel the power of her instrument and how it sang to God. As a junior surrounded by my peers, I was much too old for shame that I had once felt in expressing myself at church. Each stroke of the violin caused me to fall deeper and deeper into God, eventually gracing my eyes shut. She continued to play, as the people of the church swayed quietly in their seats, and I prayed to a God whom I loved.
I remember singing in the Catholic church when I was eight, trying not to sing in a Christian church when I was fifteen, and singing until my throat hurt at a Baptist church when I was eighteen. Yet, I had never heard such a breathtaking violin solo in church before. It was beautiful and unique, like each church I have had the honor of attending and like each religion I have been lucky enough to learn about. Oftentimes one may get caught up in values and sermons and the opposing views of different religions, but I know that is not God’s will. We should welcome other churches and religions as Jesus demonstrates and scripture tells us: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).
My experience in welcoming other religions has grown from experiencing Christ welcoming me. Not all of us need to go out and experience various religions like I have, but we merely need to open our minds to religions other than our own. Instead of focusing on differences, I rejoice in two distinct similarities—the memory of the music that rang through the various churches I have attended and the fact that no matter how the music was delivered, or where, or even what beliefs were to follow, it did not matter, because it always caused me to close my eyes and pray to a God whom I love.
Olivia Pena is a senior majoring in English with a writing emphasis at La Sierra University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6095