Lately, I’ve been thinking about churches.
It appears that no matter how far I stray from home, I can always find myself within walking distance of a Catholic cathedral. I’ll be walking through the middle of a country town in Vietnam, or even wandering through the nation’s capital and BAM! I’ve stumbled across another church.
While the existence of these places puzzled me to no end, the familiarity of walking into a place of arches, pews and stained-glass windows brought me back to sitting in on a cousin’s confirmation, or waiting for my uncle to finish work.
I spent a lot of time in churches growing up. I’ve admired the architecture as a distraction from long school excursions and I’ve sat in St Paul’s, when I needed a quiet place to read. Their presence has been constant, but never struck me as such – though I’ve never questioned the role of a St Vinnie’s Op Shop at the heart of every town.
Here, the churches appear no different from those I’m used to. Situated in a country where I see almost everything as unfamiliar, this sparked insight into why I think people might connect with organized religion.
So much of religious practice finds its comfort in routine – the same stories, stained-glass windows and prayers are repeated for centuries – not to mention the time they fill in people’s lives. When churches in Hanoi, Vietnam are no different from those in Melbourne, Australia, a person of faith could travel the world and find constancy in churches – places to practice habits of comfort all over the planet.
A month into aimlessly roaming through a foreign country, the stoic, recognizable structure of a catholic cathedral is truly a monument to the creature comforts and portable sense of self I am lacking. Despite my familiarity with churches, religion and I have had too many disagreements for such comforts to be granted to me inside their walls.
I have loved living a life very distant from my own lately; drinking black coffee instead of soy lattes and wearing the same three sets of clothes over and over. I haven’t cooked for myself or slept alone in a room for over three weeks, nor have I planned anything more than 4 days in advance. Hence why, it puzzles me that people travel to “find themselves” – after a month of travelling, I appear to have found someone completely different.
However, there’s no version of myself I’ve found that will last very long without writing or a coffee.
So, I search for a cafe with a balcony. I find a notebook and a pen. I order a coffee, occasionally adding a cake to that order, (as my mother raised me to do) and settle in with Francois Hardy’s Gli Altri.
From my quiet space with a pretty view, I write.
I think in writing, I’ve discovered my own atheistic notion of prayer. Could coffee be my holy wine? Possibly. Does it equal the universal connection with a higher power, some claim to hold? I’m not sure, but I know there’s routine, familiarity and philosophical pondering when I sit with words and caffeine. Whether I’m writing down what I did the day before, or I’m questioning the meaning of life in a poem of existential angst, I am always quiet and calm while I write.
If this is what religion is about, I think I’m starting to get it, though this may be as far as I get.
Familiarity has been sparse here and I’ve genuinely loved vacationing from myself, while I travel. Nevertheless, there is no place or world where I can forget my new-fangled wordy-caffeine-haven and I love that too.