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Tani Brown Headshot

When Truth Is Revealed

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I have only one sacred object, and it's my grandmother Rodell's wedding ring. My paternal grandmother was Rodell Brown, and she died before I was born. I feel a connection to her, and so I make up the story of how she was gifted the ring. I imagine her smile when my grandfather presented her with the ring, and how she envisioned her future, with her future daughter-in-law and granddaughter by her side. The ring enables me to see all at once my past, present, and future.

The ring is modest, a paper-thin gold band set with five diamonds so small I can merely count them, and only if I hold the ring up to the sun and squint. These diamond specks surround small claws that hold up the center diamond.

I wear this ring around my neck on a rose-gold chain given to me by my mother for my 18th birthday. I kiss it before every flight and ask my grandmother for safe passage to the next destination. Since my grandmother died before I was born, my memory of her is hallow, and I like to think her spirit is in me. Sometimes she wills me out of bed in the morning. Other times she helps me make difficult decisions.

When I was six years old, my mother's father, Satoru, was killed by a drunk driver on Thanksgiving Day. I remember hearing the short shrill from my aunt in the kitchen, and the blank stares of my cousins sitting in the family room that day. We were children and had no concept of death. As the years passed, I would look up at night and tell myself the biggest star in the sky was my grandfather, watching over me. I would talk to him all the time, telling him about my latest school project or basketball game.

I realize now that the memories of my paternal grandmother Rodell and my maternal grandfather Satoru, are the earliest foundations of my faith. They are the pious truths I find personal and sacred. By possessing Rodell's ring, I believe my grandmother protects me, and I am certain the biggest star in the sky is my grandfather. These are truths I hold evident -- even before I set foot in any church or temple.

I studied religion in college because I want to understand the things that are at the center of people's lives and the moments where truth is revealed. There are tons of theories and a few that make me pause. Mircea Eliade, a historian at the University of Chicago, believes that hierophanies -- the human experience of the sacred and profane -- hold the key to religious experience. For Eliad, the question is, is something sacred because someone says it is, or because inherently it has divine power.

Saudi Arabian anthropologist Talal Asad, looks at the way in which the Western lens has shaped discussions about religion, and asks us to consider the role that secularism has played on public and private spaces -- for example, are rituals a requirement for a religion to function?

Additionally, one of my favorite intellectuals, Dr. Cornel West, asks us to consider the role of race, class, and imperialism on framing theories of religion. He reminds us to question, poke and prod, both personally and politically, before we assume a religion to be valid.

Some people put Jordan sneakers at the center of their lives. They wake up every Sunday and line up at the nearest Footlocker to buy the latest Jordan 11 Space Jams. They believe that if only they have the opportunity to wear those shiny patent leather shoes, they might somehow feel different.

I'm not knocking the Sunday Jordan choice, but I am suggesting a closer look at what we perceive to be sacred. For me, religion is not about telling another person what to do, and I feel many practices need clarity. For me, it is about balancing my center. My family and my grandmother Rodell's ring are my center. They are the things I will forever come back to. I feel the distinctive star in the sky, and the ring, have divine powers -- even if I only feel it in my own heart. There's room for more to add to this circle as I move on in life, I just have to stay open and attentive, and I just have to listen.