Discovering how people around the world view their own spirituality and religions helped Orange resident Mark Rawden find meaning in his own life. Rawden is the author of “I Am Mine,” a compilation of more than 100 stories about a variety of religions and spiritual communities as told by the people who practice them.
The book touches upon mainstream religions like Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism, Baptist and Buddhism as well as the less common practices like paganism, Wiccken, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even includes atheists who don’t practice any religion at all. Via the internet, Rawden connected with and interviewed men and women of all ages from all over the United States and as far away as New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. After a year and a half of collecting and editing their stories, he was able to draw some broad conclusions – people who perceived themselves as being part of a community larger than themselves were happier and more fulfilled in their lives. “People were pouring out their beliefs, opinions and thoughts, and it seems their spirituality helped them define who they were as people,” he said. “I have a good friend who is a priest; he has a strong identity as a religious person connected to a faith-based community. As I got to know these people from all over the world, they identified themselves in similar ways and their lives centered around that. Even on the most basic level religion provides a routine where you go to meet with people and pray. Even atheists who don’t have the typical structure of a church still have a community of people who share their beliefs.”
It was his own sense of futility and feeling lost in his own life which actually inspired him to write the book. “At the time I was a non-practicing Catholic leaning towards being agnostic and unsure of what I believed,” he said. “I was working in sales and marketing for a company and I wasn’t a true believer in its business practices or my role at the company. I was constantly questioning why I was even there. I was wasting my time and wasting my life and I felt the need to connect better to society as I clearly wasn’t doing that through my job.” He also wrestled with deeper questions, like how does one identify oneself – was it through work, or hobbies, or friends?
The voices in the stories resonated with Rawden, and he gradually developed a new perspective which led him to make positive changes in his own life. “The stories about what others love about their lives made me realize I should be growing and becoming a better person,” Rawden said. He quit the job that brought little satisfaction, met and married his wife Marcia, reconnected with his Catholic faith and started coaching youth soccer and flag football.
Now a senior marketing and account manager for Connecticare in Hartford, the 34-year-old Russell Avenue resident is enjoying a life that is more fulfilling. “People are so passionate about their religions and I loved sharing their stories. I loved that people can co-exist despite having very different beliefs. You hear terrible things in the news but all the people in the book were very excited to be included beside others who may have had opposing spiritual perspectives. It made me feel better,” he said.
The book is currently available in paperback at Amazon.com and in the Wallingford library and Rawden hopes it makes its way onto the shelves of more local libraries soon.