Revelations: We have freedom to explore faith without fear
WASHINGTON - If you ever need confirmation that your trivial world is of little consequence, spend an afternoon in our nation's capital, then reflect on a typical day.
Don't get me wrong, Washington, D.C., is one of my favorite domestic travel destinations. I've spent many short weekends here, and if it wasn't so exceptionally expensive to live anywhere inside the DVM (District-Virginia-Maryland) radius, I likely would have packed up and moved here long ago.
But because it's the epicenter for international thought and policy, education and development, money and power, (even sex and rock 'n' roll), it's difficult not to feel small among the immensity.
Today, while visiting D.C. for the 2012 Religion Newswriters Association annual conference, I had the opportunity to tour the Washington National Cathedral with a group of religion journalism professionals.
Each of them represented a variety of belief systems in their personal lives, including a few who rejected God entirely. Yet, as we congregated together in front of the massive Episcopal church - the same church where United States presidents have been celebrated, inaugurated and mourned - I considered for a moment how American this moment was.
Each of us shared a passion and interest in God and religion in some capacity, whether it was personal or professional or both. But it's because of the religious liberties our nation allows that we were able to congregate beneath the great cathedral and believe or not believe as we saw fit.
On a finicky portable microphone, our tour guide stood outside the cathedral doors and introduced the group to the history of the church and the stories of its architecture.
During the presentation, I turned to view the faces of my fellow journalists, believing I would capture a few telling expressions of judgement and dissent.
But it was the same face on every person - fascination and curiosity.
When I turned around to the front once again, my gaze traveled north to the cathedral's crest.
I shut my eyes for a moment and allowed myself to feel small in the group and even smaller beneath the enormity of this very American structure.
And that's when it occurred to me - this moment was rare.
"How often do we as an American society get the opportunity to stand in a crowd with so much belief variety and feel absolute freedom to explore God and faith without judgement?"
"How often do we make a point to explore religion together, among a diverse backdrop, where there is no right or wrong, and no 'us and them?'"
There we stood together, a delicious stew of religious multiplicity.
There were no riots, no anger, no mocking of faith. There was only peace and unforced cohesion.
It was a grand moment, and I started to realize that feeling small was actually freeing and empowering.
Throughout the world, religious liberties are challenged and denied every day. People die for their beliefs, or non-beliefs, and take risks to think freely. There are those who will never know religious liberty as we know it in the United States. They too, might feel small, but theirs is not a plight of empowerment.
But here, in the U.S., we are given the freedom to explore faith without fear and take part in a national government that implements laws to protect the faithful.
I know here I am free to believe and worship as I choose. And for that reason, I have made it my purpose and mission to do so.
It's a mission I'm allowed because I am small and God is not. And it's a mission I'll carry for the rest of my life, far beyond my nation's capital.
Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss