I’ve just returned home from a lovely ten day southern holiday with my family. As well as being a respite from this year’s unending Canadian snow, the vacation afforded some much appreciated time to catch up on some fiction reading. My favourite book of the bunch was Yann Martel’s award winning novel, Life of Pi .
Life of Pi tells the story of a sixteen year old Indian boy who survives the sinking of a cargo ship on his way to Canada. His companions, in the lifeboat that saves him, are a hyena, an orang-utan, a zebra with a broken leg and a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger. While it may sound like the makings of a Disney movie, it is a moving, beautiful story.
One of the more powerful themes of this book is Pi’s simple quest to find God and to love Him. He says, "We are all born like Catholics aren’t we — in limbo, without religion, until some figure introduces us to God? After that meeting the matter ends for most of us. If there is a change, it is usually for the lesser rather than the greater, many people seem to lose God along life’s way. This was not my case … A germ of religious exaltation, no bigger than a mustard seed was sown in me and left to germinate. It has never stopped growing since that day."
Through his love for God, the young teenager becomes a practicing Hindu, Christian and Muslim. He is perplexed by the consternation of those around him. After all, didn’t "Bapu Gandhi" say that all religions are true? In describing his first and earliest spiritual encounters, Pi declares:
"I am a Hindu because of sculptured cones of red kumkum powder and baskets of yellow tumeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers and pieces of broken coconut, because of the clanging of bells to announce one’s arrival to God, because of the whine of the reedy nadaswaram and the beating of drums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floors down dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because of the fragrance of incense, because of flames of arati lamps circling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung, because of elephants standing around to bless, because of colourful murals telling colourful stories, because of foreheads carrying, variously signifed, the same word — faith. I became loyal to these sense impressions even before I knew what they meant or what they were for. It is my heart that commands me so."
I was struck not only by the exotic descriptiveness of this passage, but also by the sensory nature of his religious experience. I wondered what are the sensory impressions of Mormonism? (Nate Oman seems to have caught some of the scent, particularly in comment # 25) Are they more powerful and demanding of our loyalty when they come to us as children, before we even know what they mean? What is it about our beliefs that would make us claim or reject such a religious feast for the senses?