Alexandra Mayers commentary: Often times people laugh at the fact that I decided to call my“Monica Foster” persona a “Christian Pornstar”. I suppose those same people would have laughed atMary Magdalene in the time of Jesus Christ’s journey on Earth. I started the Christian Pornstar movement for one reason, and one reason only – to let pornstars know that THEY ARE GOOD ENOUGH FOR JESUS CHRIST AND GOD.
Part of the reason I love Jesus Christ as much as I do, is due to the fact that his ways are simple. Jesus Christ’s concept of THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BEING WITHIN YOU is the most COMFORTING ideal one can embody. I have a short list of souls (most who are public figures) I hope to get to have a conversation with in Heaven…and Jesus Christ is definitely on that list.
Nirpal Dhaliwal’s mother was born into the Sikh religion in the Punjab. After decades of living in west London, she suddenly converted to Christianity. How did this unexpected change of faith affect her relationship with her son?
My mother, deeply rooted in the peasant culture of her native Punjab, was always immersed in the supernatural. She was born into Sikhism, but – like many Indians of her generation – her knowledge of her religion was never strong. She could never name its 10 founding gurus; nor had she any interest in its monist theology which encourages an internal experience of God through meditation.
Her Sikhism was an emotionally driven, personal mish-mash of various customs from across the subcontinent – most of it Hindu. She visited temples daily, prayed each morning and chanted Sanskrit hymns – without understanding a word – while wafting incense through the house. And she fasted – a lot.
She often fasted for Shiva, the dancing wild-man god of destruction, and his first wife, Shakti. When her children got chicken pox, she fasted for the tiger-riding, demon-slaying goddess Durga. And she fasted, in vain, for Santoshi Mata, the goddess of domestic happiness.
Her religion was disordered, ad hoc and impossible to pin down, but it was a constant in my life and it inspired me. I have an abiding love of myth – the first book I took out of a library was about the Greek heroes – and I find India and its spiritual traditions enchanting. I’ve made dozens of pilgrimages there to sites of Sikh martyrdom, birthplaces of Hindu avatars and the shrines of sufi babas. I have a lasting fascination with yoga and mystical experiences.
Mum’s supernatural thinking – her certainty that creation was shaped by divine beings and magical forces, and influenced by spells and curses – was, I felt, a link between myself and my ancestors stretching back millennia. I loved talking to her about the stories in the Puranas, about Krishna battling snake-devils and Shiva churning the oceans for the nectar of immortality, on her terms – as things that actually happened – and seeing her light up with excitement at the tales.
But last year she found Jesus – and all her fantastical pagan ways went out of the window. She had begun to seek Him in earnest the year before. My mother works for a catering company in Southall, west London, cleaning the dishes that come off the planes at nearby Heathrow Airport, and it was an evangelist colleague, a former Sikh, who invited her to a Christian prayer service in a local church. “I felt peace straight away,” Mum said. “From the first time I went and listened to people’s testimonies, about how Jesus had healed and changed their lives, I felt peace.”
Surinder Dhaliwal, with baby Nirpal.
She continued visiting the church, which has a north-Indian congregation and conducts its services in Punjabi, and lost interest in her old ways. Then Jesus came to her in a dream: “He held my hand,” she told me.
“He said he was with me and wouldn’t leave me. I woke up and I could still feel it.”
So she gave away all the Sikh and Hindu iconography that decorated her home, replaced them with crucifixes and was baptised into her new faith. She now reads a Punjabi-language Bible every day and watches Christian cable-television channels.
Her conversion itself wasn’t too surprising. The story of Jesus is, by Indian standards, a plausibly humdrum one. Most Indian villagers could point you towards someone who cures the sick, raises the dead and knows the secret of eternal life. And the morphing of religions has always been a common occurrence there. What unnerved me was my sense of betrayal, the painful sense of rejection as Mum turned her back on what had been our abiding bond. It felt like she’d turned her back on me.
Her conversion was a blanket one. Many of the religious items she got rid of I had collected on my travels and had sentimental value. It hurt that she didn’t consider my feelings when she did as her pastor commanded and purged her home of idols and other “satanic” trinkets. Our conversations are now truncated. If I make a remark with a Sikh or Hindu connotation, my mother will stop talking. Religion saturates Indian culture – there’s hardly an Indian movie, song or turn of phrase that doesn’t evoke a Hindu sentiment – and so I no longer play music to her as she goes silent and turns stony when she hears something non-Christian. We don’t watch Hindi movies together anymore.
“I’ve made my decision,” she replied, when I asked why she won’t indulge the merest hint of her past ways. “I’m not doing this by half. I’m standing with Jesus, and only Jesus.”
Challenging as I find it, I can’t begrudge her new faith which has, at last, brought her some much needed relief
Sad as I feel about it, I appreciate that my mother is a much calmer and more contented woman now. Jesus has finally subdued the explosive, shrieking temper that has plagued her throughout my life and eased the chronic anxiety that brought her severe headaches and made her grind her teeth noisily in her sleep.
In many ways I’m happy for her. Her life is much simpler with the one-stop-shop that is Jesus, compared to the chaotic spiritual buffet she sampled from in the past. She no longer marches to temples bearing heavy loads of bananas, coconuts and gallons of milk as offerings. While others believe that the token gift of a flower or fruit is enough for the gods, Mum would give great bagfuls of foodstuffs, desperate for their assistance. I jokingly refer to Jesus as bina kela baba – the baba without bananas – which she sometimes finds funny enough to smile at, until she remembers it is blasphemy and straightens her face.
Mum’s life has been a terribly difficult one. She married a man who was an abusive alcoholic for the first 13 years of their marriage and has been teetotal but sullen and largely unemployed since. Speaking very little English, having very little education, she effectively raised four children on her own in a strange and foreign land.
My siblings and I have all contributed to her worries. Until recently, I’d spent two years living with her as I suffered from depression – and she was my rock. Challenging as I find it, I can’t begrudge her new faith which has, at last, brought her some much needed relief.
Recently, I went with her to church. I watched as a young preacher gave a hectoring sermon in Punjabi and the congregation held their hands aloft and muttered to themselves with their eyes shut. Their desperation broke my heart, expressing as it did their deep fears and pain, reminding me of my mother’s anguished and often lonely journey.
Afterwards, they told me of the wonders Jesus had worked in their lives. One man’s visa had come through after he’d converted, though he’d been told by a solicitor that he’d no chance of staying in Britain. Another man described how he’d dropped his wallet as he left work on a building site and returned to find it there in the morning, still containing the £300 he’d left inside it – just as Jesus had promised when he’d prayed.
I listened to all this as I sat with Mum and shared the congregation’s communal meal of keema, biryani and sag-aloo, while Christian bhajans (devotional songs) played through the speakers. Hearing tales of miracles, enjoying the taste and smell of Indian food, the sound of tablas and Hindi vocals in the background, I reflected on whether I’d lost much of my mother to Jesus at all.