This moment in religion

20120303-172358.jpgDear Friends,

Last night we went to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway. It was a lot of fun. I really didn't know what to expect. I have been a student of religion most of my life, and I generally respect all religious traditions, so I looked forward to seeing how Mormonism would be portrayed in this musical written by the creators of the irreverent South Park.

In the show, two very naive young Mormon men are sent on their 2-year mission to Uganda. When they arrive, they are immediately exposed to HIV-AIDS, clitoral mutilation, pedophilia, a tyrannical and abusive general, hunger, and murder. They are shocked and confused, to say the least. Their faith in God and the Mormon church is tested and shaken to its core.

After spending some time with the African villagers, they naturally start questioning their own faith and their understanding of God and the Church. By the end of this hilariously funny show, the villagers and the Mormons have found common religious ground. Somehow the nihilistic attitude of the villagers (they sing "F-U, God") and the deeply ingrained fear-based faith of the Mormons (they "turn it off, like a light switch" whenever they have thoughts that don't "feel right") become one inspired understanding.

And what brings these diverse communities together and reignites their faith in the world? Though it is not labeled mindfulness in the show, what the Mormons and the villagers come to understand is that the latter days aren't in the afterlife, the latter days are right here and right now. In the show's finale, Tomorrow is a Latter Day they sing together:

The past may be in tatters But today is all that matters Because today is yesterday's latter day.

I think it is very interesting and encouraging to see our religions and society moving away from a faith based on a fear of the afterlife, and instead choosing kindness and compassion in this very moment. This is what the practice of mindfulness is all about -- living in this moment, so that we can really be present for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Choosing the most compassionate actions right now, not based on an idea of what will happen to us after we die.

Living mindfully isn't the same as immediate gratification. It doesn't mean that we do whatever we want whenever we want. It just means that we respect this moment as much as any future moment, and that we don't live our lives solely for the benefit of some future moment that may or may not ever come to pass.

Watching The Book of Mormon reminded me of another one of my favorite shows, the musical Rent, also about living in the present moment. In the song, No Day but Today, the lyrics include:

There's only now There's only here Give in to love Or live in fear No other path No other way No day but today

Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama could not have said it better.

With love, Annie.