May 25, 2015

One Family; Two Faiths

Had an interesting Sunday. I went to a baptism, where I served as the godmother.
The baptism
I am not a fervent church visitor, and cannot remember the last time I attended a baptism, although both sides of my family come from catholic stock. My mother still remembers they’d have to walk a few kilometers to buy their meat from a catholic butcher, because the butcher shop next door was run by a protestant. Needless to say, things have drastically changed since then in Holland. I don’t even know the exact religion of any of my Dutch friends.

Family and friends in Holland don't seem to baptize their children as much as they do here, religion being an after-thought, rather than an indication of your (political) identity. I am the godmother of one of my brother’s daughters, but don’t think I even attended that ceremony as I was on assignment somewhere.
The party after
But in Lebanon, religion is still a big thing. Sunday’s baptism was an unusual baptism for Lebanese standards as well; the baptized child was not a baby, but rather an eight-year old boy that had chosen to switch religion. The priest had to translate the entire service into French, as the child did not understand the classic Arabic very well. Luckily, the godfather did not seem too sure of the procedure either, and so we were all amateurs at the altar.
The priest was aware of this. When he mentioned that today was Pentecost, and asked the child if he could tell us, the attending crowd, what Pentecost was, we all stood there wondering:  ‘Pentecost’?
uhhhhhh,” said the child.
When Jesus resurrected?” tried the godfather.
No, that’s Easter,” replied the priest. 
I was of no help either. Pentecost? I don’t think we celebrate that in Holland, I am thinking.
‘With the kind of clients these days,’ you could see the priest thinking, ‘we’re all going to end up in hell.”
My mom (baby on the lap) at her baptism (I believe) in around 1922 or 23
When we had to sign the register, godmother and godfather, the priest joked, “Don’t worry too much about your signature. When Daash comes to town, you don’t want them to be able to trace you assisting the baptism of a muslim.”
I thought that was pretty funny; ‘When Daash comes to town.  It seems pretty real these days, now that they’ve taken over Palmyra. My son learned how to ride a bike in Palmyra, right in between the Roman columns.   When I talked to hubbie about it, he dismissed it with a “No, they’re not coming to town,” leaving me somehow reassured, followed by a “Not now. That needs another two years.” Comforting.
My son at the ruins of Palmyra, in 2003. I think he's sporting some type of toy machine gun. Seems quite in place.
When I had my oldest child, my husband, a sunni muslim, suggested we had him baptized by a couple of his friends.
By law, children in Lebanon follow the religion of their father. This was not an issue for us, as we’re not into the organized religion things, as you can see.  I think he may have suggested the baptism because he tried to appease my parents; I was the only girl in a Frisian catholic family (quite a minority, most Frisians are protestant), and the only one who married outside the religion, which -  in the eyes of my parents at the time – was a bit of a worrisome matter.
His friends were a couple of monks in the mountains.
How does a sunni muslim end up with a couple of monks as friends?
One winter, while driving to his pig farm in the mountains (long story, that pig farm), he was behind a little Renault when it suddenly disappeared from view. It was foggy, and early in the morning, and the road was empty. For a moment he wondered if maybe they had taken another road. Until he hit a patch of ice. He was able to stop just in time, but when he looked to his right, he saw that the little car, and its occupants, had slid off the road and down the mountain.
They hadn’t gone very far down, and hubbie was able to clamber down and help the men get out of the car. They were four monks, on their way to a nearby monastery.
Without transportation now, he gave them a ride home, where they insisted he come in and taste some of their home-made ‘medicinal’ drink. A deep friendship was struck that early morning in an unheated monastery over absinthe.
They’d love to baptize him,” he said, “we can do it up in their place.”
Nothing ever came of it though. I am not into the rules of religion, and, after some inquiry, found out that – after a enormous amount of paper work and visits to various officials -  we’d end up with 3 different religions under one roof; a roman catholic, a sunni muslim and a Greek orthodox.  That’d be three too many.
My dad (boy on the left) also around 1922
The baptized child is the son of a friend of mine. She’s a christian, from Europe, married to a muslim, from Lebanon. Both are non-religious, so they never had an issue with the fact that all of their children – as stipulated by local law - follow the religion of their father. 
However, one of her sons, after observing the highly mystical ceremony of his nephew’s communion in a church last year, decided that this is what he wanted as well. He wanted to do his holy communion.
At first they ignored the request. They believe in the goodness of people, and in sharing this Earth with people of all colors and faith. They celebrate Easter with colored eggs, and Christmas with a decorated tree, but that’s as far as it goes.  All traditions that have pagan origins, by the way. But church visits are not really her thing.

Little neighborhood shrines

The child however, was pretty persistent. He started crossing himself at every neighborhood shrine they passed, and asked everything there was to know about Jesus. They decided to put him, twice weekly, in catechism school.
Faithfully (as he should) he’s been attending classes for a year now, and the time had come that he was ready and prepared for his holy communion.
But there was a little problem, her husband understood one day, as he picked up his son from catechism.
He cannot do his holy communion,” explained the priest to her husband. “He is a muslim, according to the paperwork you provided. He has to be christian.”
“No problem,” replied the husband, “we’ll just make him one, if that is what it takes.”
But when the family layer was asked to prepare the paperwork of the child, there was a problem, it turned out.
He will not have the right to inherit anything from his paternal grandparents nor his parents, as he will be of another faith.“  And that, according to the lawyer, was not a decision you could make on behalf of an 8 year-old child.
That was a bit of an issue. Because even if you stipulate in a testament that so-and-so inherits a certain thing, religious inheritance law can overrule that decision.
They decided to go ahead anyway. If Daash comes to town, there won’t be much left to inherit anyways.
It has raised some questions with my youngest who now insists to know her 'identity'.
What am I?” she wants to know.
“A girl.”
“No, like really.”

That’s a choice you can make when you're 18,” I reply.
Oh, like the tattoo and the piercing?”
Good thing her dad and the priest were not within earshot.
At the end of the ceremony, his older brothers, still muslims, posed proudly with him and the priest in front of the statue of Maria and child. I think it incredibly endearing, three brothers, two faiths. The Daash could learn a thing or two from these kids.
Meanwhile outside, the Phillipinas are walking the neighborhood dogs


Anonymous said...

Wow. Another amazing story by you and cute child photos of your dear parents. Now lets see, as a lapsed maronite , pentecost is the appearance of jesus to his disciplines 40 days after his death and resurrection (easter). Am I right? :)

Tanya Dernaika said...

I've always loved your writing, but for me this post is by far the most moving, inspiring and funniest I've ever read. It really hit a nerve.
Still laughing at "What am I?" "A girl."

visnja said...

Wonderful story!

Trekking in Nepal said...

Trekking in Nepal and tours Operators takes you that further way to guarantee for Treks Himalaya that you has an unforgettable Trek in Nepal that you have been dream with Acute trek is part of your choice for Nepal Tours. We have your choose of Nepal Trekking for 3 days to 30 or more days it depending of your timetable, sleep under lodges or tent. We always respect our duty to constantly your Nepal Holidays satisfaction. Whether you are looking for gateway Travel in Nepal, a memorable Hiking in Nepal outing with a family or an exciting nature Tours in Nepal with Acute Trek Pvt. Ltd. We offer you with the best progressive information during your Nepal Travel and itinerary leading focused in Tours Trekking in Nepal and modified as per your requirements of Holidays in Nepal. It is significant Treks Himalaya to memorize, though, it necessitate an enough level of physical homework and must remembers that there is also a psychosomatic assurance walking and Trekking in Himalaya. Acute trek is an attempt to encourage Adventure Trekking in Nepal to the exterior world while striving to defend an aged tradition as well as Nepal Tours conserve the surroundings for generation to come Tours Trekking in Nepal. We are specialize in organize Nepal travel activities excursion such as:- Trekking, Helicopter Tour, Peak Climbing, Mountain Flight, Honeymoon Tour, Sightseeing, Rafting, Jungle Safari, Pilgrim’s Tour, Hotel Reservation, Air Ticket, Tibet and Bhutan Tour many more.