Under God's Grace

Saturday, September 02, 2017

celineism

Sleep hovered over my eyes as we sped past stretches of countryside. We'd just arrived in Tarlac. It was a Tuesday in the middle of August. The sky was fickle, shifting from blue to gray then back again. After dropping our bags at Microtel Luista, we returned to our van and headed for Monasterio de Tarlac in the town of San Jose. I was still tired from burning the midnight oil, so as soon as the vehicle moved, I immediately slid into slumber.


When I came to, the road had transitioned from that of a city to one bordered by farmlands and patches of woods. It was winding and seemed to go on and on. "Quite a long drive," I mumbled under my breath. 

When we finally arrived at our destination, I didn't know what to expect. Sure, Monasterio de Tarlac is listed as a popular tourist attraction in the province, but I hadn't really heard about it until that day. Stepping out of the vehicle and into the groomed landscape of the place, I realized it had the same shroud of reverence that Regina Rica in Tanay had. It was a place of worship, that I was sure. Faith was almost tangible in here. 

"Are you religious?" I asked Monica, probably sounding more uncouth than intended.

We were walking down a sloped path, towards a chapel where neophyte priests conduct masses. I could hear the sound of a sermon from afar, but couldn't make out the words.  
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"Not really," she replied. 

I chided myself for such a crass question but she didn't seem to mind.

"Me too," I admitted. 

At 15, I identified as a deist and did so for eight years. Now, I practice theism. I believe there is a Higher Being, and just because I believe religion complicates things doesn't mean He (or She or It) doesn't love me

I understand the need for religion, how it can be beautiful and eye-opening. At its best, it's a bridge to grasping something far greater than ourselves. At its worst, it's propaganda. Like humans, it is flawed, but ultimately, at its core are just two things: kindness and love. Religion shouldn't be a measure of character. God only wants us to be kind to each other, to ourselves, and to love sincerely – this is what I believe. 

After taking a few snaps at the chapel, we proceeded to one of the two most celebrated features of the Monasterio: the 30-foot statue of Christ the Redeemer. The other one's the relic of the True Cross, if you're curious. 

Painted in white, towering over all of the 278 hectares of Mt. Ressurecion Eco Park, the structure loomed with outstretched arms, as if urging people to come. It was perched on a view deck that affords a sweeping scene of greens and rolling hills. 
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"God is here," I thought.

I did not find God in churches. I found God in unlikely places – amidst a wreckage, on a mountain, in the company of strangers, before a raging falls. I found God in traveling. He (or She or It) is everywhere, that's clear to me. And I feel His (or Her or Its) presence most in places where there is wonder and compassion. Not to say there isn't any of those in churches. There are plenty, I'm sure. I just happened to find them elsewhere. 

God was there in Monasterio de Tarlac, smiling at how the place and the view inspires wonder, amused at how it brings us humility, and blessing us with a sense of peace. 

Perhaps religion makes us all a little close-minded, maybe all beliefs do; but to respect the difference and see beyond it, this shouldn't be so hard to do. After all, if there's one thing we all can be certain, it is God loves us no matter what.

Storytime is a series of  stories and musings about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

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