Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Meeting the Javanese Mother Mary

“Is Mother Mary a Catholic?” asked my 8 years old nephew innocently. I can’t help replying back with “God, what is your religion?” – something that he wouldn’t understand, in retrospective.

But that’s exactly the point. How do you explain to a child that it’s okay to visit a church, though you’re not officially a Christian? Or visiting a temple tho you’re not registered as a Buddhist or a Hindu? Or enjoying the coolness inside a mosque despite your chosen faith, for that matter?

Since when did it become a matter? Since when did I have to defend my rights to visit any sacred places, regardless of their religious/traditional affiliations? My mother was supremely elated when she found out that I visited the Temple Church of Ganjuran (Gereja Candi Ganjuran), a.k.a. Ganjuran Sacred Heart Church in Bantul, Yogyakarta. She and her second husband immediately related it to me becoming a Christian. How do I explain to her that one of my best friends in Bali often accompanies me to the local temple and she (happens to be a Christian) also prays in her own way?

I guess my mother has enough stuffs to ‘worry’ about. My sister is dating a Moslem Javanese man. A very decent man I’d say, and I’m happy for her. But she has enough problems in explaining to mum that his religion matters not for her.

I can understand my sister. Two Indonesian laws in need of annulment are 1) the 2008/9 porn bill (God, I can write a long article just about that!) and 2) the marriage law (don’t know which year), which states that two Indonesians of different faiths cannot be married. If I recall correctly, it requires that one of the lovers must sacrifice his/her own faith and convert to another’s. IMHO, it creates a false foundation for the marriage. Why can’t you just remain faithful to your own religion and respect your partner’s as well? More than that, not only respecting and tolerating, but appreciating. For the essence, the beauty within, is just the same.

I guess I’m a strong proponent for interfaith marriage in Indonesia; one that is not merely based on respect, but also on appreciation and understanding that each path is uniquely tailored for a person. The connection between a person and the Sacred, the Creator, God, whatever you name it, is a very personal one; it is even more personal than the bond between husband and wife. That’s why it is called a ‘path’. Because it is small and is only walked by one person at a time.

Coming back to the conversation with my nephew. Eventually my sister and I came up with an explanation like this:

“Religion is the way for a person to speak with God. It is up to him/her how to speak with the Almighty. You can speak in Indonesian language, in Javanese, in Balinese… in English, in Mandarin… etc…”

“God can understand?”

“Yes, God can understand. Even if you don’t speak at all, God can still understand. And wherever you pray, whatever your religion is, God still understands.”

That explanation seems to suffice my nephew. With the Javanese gamelan playing in the background, he sat next to my sister in front of the Javanese style Jesus Christ, while I walked to the corner of the compound, to Mother Mary and Baby Jesus. I need not to explain why I was more attracted to this Javanese Mother Mary, but I can try. Perhaps because she reminds me of Lady Isis and Baby Horus, Ma Parvati and Little Ganesh… mother and child. Perhaps I was, am, attracted to her Javanese style. Perhaps I just need to speak to a mother who listens.

“This is Mother Mary?” my nephew was confused with her Javanese garment and hair ornaments. He was used to the cloaked Mother Mary he always saw in churches.

“Yes, this is Mother Mary,” I told him. “This is the same Mother Mary you saw with the cloak inside the church.” I wanted to tell him that I can see the same Mother Mary inside the Vedic Goddesses and Celtic High Ladies… and even in the trees and the stars… but that would confuse him more. It would confuse him more if I say that the Vatican seemed to disagree with the representation of Mother Mary in Javanese Hindu style.

But…yes, this is still Mother Mary. Her Javanese statue, along with the temple church (gereja candi) compound was built in 1930s, the courtesy of the Dutch Schmutzer family for the Motherland of Indonesia.

Yes, she listens to me too. For I am her daughter and she is my Mother.

All pics are my own.
Pic 3 = 'Mother Mary of Ganjuran, I seek Thy Blessings'

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