Mission Share stories: From prayer beads to short conversations
November 07, 2019
By Nidhiyaa Anagananthan
Pictured above Nidhiyaa Anagananthan speaking with Rev. Carl Siktberg.
Like for most people, unclarity in life brought me hope as much as it brought adversities. But nothing is as fulfilling as knowing that there are an infinite number of possibilities in life and one of those just happens to be my journey towards finding belonging in a Christian Camp.
When people ask me why I chose to work at Camp Aldersgate, I sometimes tell them that it was for the experience, and sometimes I tell them that I wanted to go back to the States again, but mostly I just shrug my shoulders in reply, since that’s the most honest reply out them all. It was impulsivity, and curiosity of where I would end up that brought me here. Then they ask if I was a Christian and the answer is always a “no”, and of course they follow up with a question about what I believe in. That’s when I hit the point of confusion and fear, because my beliefs aren’t always looked upon with acceptance. And that’s why the memory of me firmly telling my soon to be bosses at my interview that I was an agnostic with a quiver in my voice remains ungrainy and clear. The immense relief that I felt when they responded positively was like none other, I have ever felt. Still I remember the nerve-wracking fear of not fitting in that I felt the day before my journey here. Now I know that fear of being shunned is part of seeking that acceptance and most of all support, but fear can cloud any sane person even the bravest of them all.
My story though does not begin here at Camp Aldersgate; maybe it started way before I was born with my parents’ own beliefs, but my journey towards finding spirituality began one late December night. The memories I have from my 18th
year are clouded by a distorted mask of confusion. I remember stumbling upon the scene of two of my friends tap dancing to Michael Bublé during our Christmas dinner, only to feel like an outsider watching a silent movie. The room soon fills up with indistinct chatter to my ears and a slight ringing protrudes my hearing. My phone sits idly on the table with messages left on read, playlist muted. I stare at the half empty wine glass, glassy-eyed, and that’s when ringing grows louder, and my head starts clearing up. I excuse myself out of room in a hurry and stumble quietly into bed. The memory slowly fades with me silently uttering my dad’s words to me, “Pray to God when you are struggling in life, I have no other solution for you”. That might have been the beginning of my journey to find spirituality, but I had yet to realize it then.
Fast forward to 2019, it’s the beginning of a new year, and I set foot in a temple for the first time in 3 years. The idol of Shiva stares back at me while my grandmother explains the story of his reincarnation. I remember feeling a sense of belonging when I realized that my grandmother told me the same stories when I was a kid and the sense of fascination never faded away. Just the next day, I visit my gran from my dad’s side, and she is telling me about all the bible verses I must read to find happiness through God. And no, I do not remember which bible verses she wanted me to read, just the annoyance I felt from being told what I do. I did not believe that it had anything to do with preference between the two religions, I just simply felt constricted and uncomfortable.
Much later in the year, the day before I leave to camp, my dad hands me his prayer beads and utters the same words that I have come to hate. These words remain with all through first few days of staff and as the former chaplain, Alicia, asks us to tell her about our beliefs, I say, “I do not know." I explain to her my varied background and my confusion with my beliefs. I will till this day never forget how her words in return. She says to me, “I have read the Bhagavad Gita and there may be different gods in both religions, but the practices stem from the same place.”
These words impress me as much as they keep me awake that night. Staff training goes by in a blur and we are introduced to the theme of the summer: Acts 2. The idea of living in a community that welcomes everyone and cares for them moves me enough that I cry that night. I lie there in bed thinking that it did not matter that the apostles worshiped God, or their methods of prayer was different. They chose to show kindness and go out of their way to be hospitable to those in need. My heart feels lighter at the thought, and I think to myself if these were the beliefs that defined what made you a follower of God, then I could come in terms with finding acceptance at a Christian.
The nervousness subsides and the summer goes a little smoother than my expectations. Later one day in the summer, my campers are tired from a long day out in the sun and they ask me if I was Christian. This time I don’t stumble or stutter. I don’t shake or pause. I reply honestly. I tell that I am not, and that my beliefs are different, but that’s okay because I found belonging here.
Today as I sit and write my thoughts down, I start to reflect on the impressions each and every individual had on me. It was never about my honesty at my interview or about the words Alicia said that day. What brought me this far were the small conversations I had with my fellow counselors. Everyone has their own opinion and beliefs on what religion is to them. What you worship and the way you worship does not define your beliefs, neither does it confine you. That awareness brought me closer to the members of this community. I was able to share my own views on religion and my journey to finding spirituality as an agnostic. My story does not quite end here, in fact, it still feels like the beginning. The little moments I had at camp will become part of a bigger story in my life.
Nidhiyaa Anagananthan, a summer staffer at Camp Aldersgate, was one of four recipients of the 2019 Staff Scholarship.