Evolving theories

My grandfather died last night. He was 96 years old, so he lived a good, long life. He passed during the night so at least it was peaceful, and I am truly grateful that it wasn’t as a result of Covid, especially because he lived in a senior living facility. But now, with that, all of my grandparents are gone.

I know I’m lucky to have had grandparents alive so late into my life. I’m not really grieving, per se, either; he didn’t die tragically young and had reasonably good health until the end, despite having survived both cancer and a stroke in earlier years.

But what it does lead me to think about is my views on death and my views on faith in particular. And after a decade or more of trying to twist my mind into believing in Christianity, I’ve come to realize that I actually believe something else instead and it brings me comfort.

Several months ago, my husband and I were discussing religion and I was talking about what I believed. He said I sounded Shinto, which I knew little about. It turns out it’s the religion of indigenous Japan and actually, he was right—it’s very, very close to what I believe.

The religion has no dogmas or sacred texts. It finds “the way of the kami” (or sacredness or “the gods”) in everything, from nature to animals. It believes that most people are inherently good (as do I) and the exceptions have been influenced by evil spirits. There’s a lot of overlap with Buddhism as well, which I’ve also been drawn to for decades.

It’s also really big on honoring ancestors and many Japanese people have the habit of putting out a small bowl of rice or other food as a way to share them with the ancestors. While there was a time when I would have found that a little hokey and rolled my eyes at it, I’m at a point in my life where I like it.

I didn’t have a close relationship with most of my relatives who have passed, so I didn’t have warm feelings about many of them. But I did have warm feelings toward my grandpa who just passed (who was my dad’s father) and toward my maternal grandmother. When I think of the idea of setting out a bowl of food for my ancestors, I think of them, and it’s like inviting their spirits to stick around.

Shinto practitioners are also big on having shrines and Amy commented that after I lost my cat Cammy (who was very unique and special to me) that it seemed like I had built him a shrine. It was just something I was compelled to do. I do think he had a spirit and I think his spirit is still with me in some way.

It’s kind of interesting, though, that the reason my husband knew about the existence of Shinto is likely because he’s such a fan of Japanese culture. In general, I am not as much of a fan as he is. But one of my goals is to save enough money that we can take a trip to Japan together. (I hesitate to write the words “before he dies,” even though that’s true and it gives the goal some urgency.)

Shinto practice is also big on good luck talismans called omamori, as well as on divination. I’ve always had a fondness for good luck talismans and I was drawn to divination even when the Christian traditions told me it was wrong.

Ultimately, all religions come down to what you can believe in and what brings you comfort. It doesn’t matter if it sounds ridiculous to people who don’t believe. And I’m relieved to finally find out that there’s already a name for what I believe. Even more than that, I’m thankful that I’ve come out of the phase of deconstructing Christianity and landed in a place where my beliefs don’t require so much mental gymnastics to maintain.

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