I was both deeply touched and confused when one of my best friends pulled me aside after rowing practice to ask if I was all right.
“What?” I was in a great mood. My coach and I had exchanged a couple of classic Jesus jokes—in which my Lord and Savior makes the lightweight varsity 8+ and wins Canadian Henley.
“You know, I wanted to make sure you were comfortable with all of that.”
Religion has always been a part of my upbringing. My mom’s side has a long, rocky relationship with Christianity that goes back to would-be North Korea. My dad’s most stable memories from childhood are from his Catholic school in New Jersey. I was raised going to a massive Korean church in West Philly, then a Lutheran congregation in Germantown, and finally converted to Catholicism in the 10th grade. And while the details and canon shifted between denominations, God remained the focus and the source of all possibility.
Three years removed from mandatory morning prayer, it’s an understatement that religion is more difficult for me at Columbia. The everyday details of my life have become everything. Big-picture thoughts get sidelined for my hourly schedule, list of potential lunchtimes, and all the tiny things I can perfectly arrange.
On this campus, I think we can get too scared of what we don’t know. Any casual Christian humor displays the weirdest insight into this habit. We “respect faith” by not really acknowledging it. When it becomes a part of everyday conversation, it can so easily evolve into a curiosity. The few times I have seriously discussed my faith with anyone other than close friends, it goes a little like this:
“Wow, so you believe in God and everything?”
It gets a little awkward here.
“Well… I don’t.” Her words close the conversation.
In a place so devoted to increasing knowledge, we can get so stuck on the concrete, the fear of offending too easily, the vulnerability of not knowing. As a result, we shirk away from these unknowns.
When I don’t actively think about faith, I forget how much power it can hold. My struggles with maintaining religious faith are synonymous with my shaky ability to have faith in myself. I don’t know at what point I started doubting so much. My heart starts pounding because of all the things I am not doing or not doing well enough. Desperation about perfection and all that is perfectly known is paralyzing.
We all want to know exactly what’s going to be on that exam, or what job we’ll get, or simply if that guy you sometimes say hi to knows who you are. Anxiety is a self-defense evolutionary trait—it helps us prepare for the future. Yet, this tension is the only way to grow. Yes, I still want to (and should) figure out as much as possible. But beyond what is feasible, faith steps in. In my experience, it is developed by tapping into that unknown potential.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not evangelizing. Religion is not mine to recommend or lecture about.
However, I have always felt that by not taking the chance to immerse ourselves in the unknown, we give up the chance of approaching something greater. This is the significance of faith. Not just in a religious sense, but in every facet of life. It can get rid of the guilt of not enough. It can make me have trust in the future and in the process.
This year, I am going to try to let the unknown and the other be exactly what they are—uncontrollable and something to have faith in. For me, that could be paying more attention to my religious faith, but it also should mean being open to change. I have one more year in this place. Not everything has to be known right now, or ever, and that is the point and the comfort of faith in anything. I should tell more Jesus jokes and make everyone, including myself, a little more uncomfortable.
Sabina Maurer is a senior at Columbia College. She will happily take any questions you have about spending four years wearing a kilt to Catholic school.
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