As a kid, I dreaded Sundays. Why did our family have to go to church? Why was I a part of this family? My parents never encouraged sleeping in. At least Saturdays my brother and I woke up early for cartoons and McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches or toast, omelettes, and newspaper horoscopes at the diner. No, instead Sundays in the early 2000’s on Guam felt like dreaded jail time. We could not question my parents dragging us along on their religious weekend community responsibilities: Dad as choir conductor and mom as volunteer kitchen helper.
In the way that yoga studios hold space, churches provide an open door for immigrant enclaves, a chance to gather and practice community and faith, in life and otherwise. Although my grandmother was devout, Dad appeared only musical on Sundays and Mom seemed extra worried about our Sunday best. On one particular day of the Lord, when I was about 12 years old, umma went ahead early for cooking duty. I rode with appa in pre-approved outfit half an hour later.
When we open the car doors on the island, territorial heat releases steamy, trapped air into the sauna-like atmosphere. Once the A/C blasts, we finally breathe easier, collecting ourselves in cool calm as if under the breezy shade of a palm tree. That day, I remember the familiar sight of Dad pulling down the window about an inch so he could smoke in his left hand and drive with his right. I think it was at a stoplight at one of our few major intersections, he put on a Celine Dion CD (remember those days?). Without any warning or explanation, he started belting out the lyrics as if he himself were sailing full steam ahead on the stern of The Titanic. I was so astounded by the magnitude and range of his voice, I could almost sense his vibrational sound waves making ripple effects across the Pacific Ocean. I felt blinded, shell-shocked in the otherwise moving Lexus. The song, doubly blessed with the harmony with Andrea Bocelli, seemed to string out forever in Latin, like when time slows down in a car accident… except this was meant to be heaven. Indeed I was sad to have ended our 15-minute meditative drive, and always think fondly when I replay that same melody in my head, repeating something about violenza and fraternita. I’ve marked it in my memory as our own father-daughter song I hope we can recreate one day (I asked recently if he wanted to see Celine in the flesh in Las Vegas, but he thought Sin City might be too dry, cold, and far from home).
So, this is partly why I’m drawn now deeply to the familiarity of the Catholic tradition — one I used to fairly dread. I used to run away after communion with my childhood best friend Sarah as if the Messiah were arriving to announce recess outside. As a teen, I’d hold onto my grandmother’s hand in the pews while she told me to uncross my legs (under his eye). But I always knew my dad was behind me somewhere, ready to conduct. He would at times delight my ears during holiday specials when he’d take the solo. He is a proud man, and I am proud to be his daughter. I don’t know why I didn’t inherit his full musical talent or range of vocal chords, but continue to sing along anyways.
I left Guam and my parents for something bigger, better and brighter than the sun at 14 degrees north of the equator. In fast search of stimulation and freedom, college came without any cultural shock. I joined a few different clubs. Yet between the city excursions, variety of classes and work-study jobs, there was something missing — I mistakenly thought it might be a boyfriend. In retrospect, it was a place to call home, or at least really remind me of it and take me there with my sensory imagination. It was only after a brief flirtation exploring the Christian groups on campus, my soul awakened, and in tears I took my leap of faith somewhere in the middle of west Philadelphia. I started attending mass again with a group of girlfriends who watched “Desperate Housewives” with me before we scurried for the 10 p.m. service together. The church’s traditional opulence filled me with a sense of grandeur and widened my perspective, literally and symbolically. Plus, the musical talent matched the intellectual integrity of the well-rounded students of the Ivy League.
When I landed in New York City, I heard a bit of my calling at Xavier Church in Chelsea. Back at chapel in school, I loved to read out loud. In time, I’ve become my parents as an active parishioner who lectors, and also teaches yoga right at the altar. I feel so present, purposeful and alive. They say millenials are turning away from institutions but still searching for various forms of spirituality. I’m so inspired, centered and grounded; it’s one of my many identities. I find my new-old normal rooted from the traditional past, and am making my religious future my own kind of modern goodness. How I used to zone out completely and am now so much more engaged with the liturgical word, so much that sometimes I’ll bring myself to tears, especially in the solace of songs. How my heart lifts!
I have heard God’s voice while meditating, which I find similar to prayer, if not the same. I accept God’s presence is ever-lasting and believe in the mystery of the universe. Sometimes I attend the family mass at 9 a.m. I smile at the back of babies’ heads, knowing I was once there, and how I’d like to bring my kids with me one day, too. I appreciate my parents toting me to a place that undoubtedly shaped my underlying principles. I can be one with the word. And now I can say, Sunday is one of my favorite days. Every time I step inside, I feel a sense of belonging; it’s something I’ve been longing for my whole life. I am at peace. It is integrated.
Originally published at konakafe.com