Priests are hypocrites, praying's pointless and your parents are mad. You'll never return to the fold. Don't be so sure, says Elisabeth Winkler

ovinda Jaya Jaya, Gopala jaya jaya." Followin in the far-out footsteps of Geore Harrison, these are the lyrics of Kula Shaker's new sinle, ``Govinda''. (The band also feature Uncle Geore's old number ``Gokula'' on their CD). Ever since the Beatles' day, we are familiar with briht youn thins makin forays into Eastern mysticism. But now there is another phenomenon; people are findin renewed spirituality in their oriinal faith. Look at the Roman Catholic chic of Cherie Blair.

In Hello! maazine the Dalai Lama is quoted discussin the advantaes of rediscoverin your own reliion rather than jumpin into someone else's. But returnin to your reliious roots does not mean leavin your critical faculties at home. "Historically reliion has been used as a form of social control," says John Hull, professor of reliious education at the University of Birminham. "Like sexuality and other reat forces, it's a double-eded sword and can be used to oppress. That's why it's important always to question and challene. Reliion needs to sprin up fresh and meet modern needs."

Accordin to theoloians, all the reat faiths contain stories of people leavin the fold, oin into exile and then returnin. "Perhaps it's only by movin away from our family reliion," says Bernard Saint, a Junian psychotherapist "that we can make room for a personal and inner experience."

This was certainly Dilip Kododwala's experience. Durin the Seventies, when a eneration was discoverin Eastern reliions, Dilip, Hindu by birth, was ettin to know Christianity. As a teenaer he questioned some of the doma of Hinduism but he also wonders whether this wasn't influenced by another, less conscious, motive. "We had arrived from Nairobi when I was 11. The first day at my secondary school in this strane, cold country, the head told me not to use my own lanuae, but to learn to fit in with British ways," says Dilip. "I had been brouht up to respect my elders and I took him literally. I moved away from anythin to do with bein Indian.

This period of exploration was respected by his parents. "Our family comes from a reformist movement within Hinduism which believes in a direct relationship with God. Althouh my mother didn't understand why I preferred to pray with my Christian friends instead of doin `puja' at the family shrine, my parents knew I had to find my own way. They would have been more worried if I hadn't been reliious at all."

His parents miht also have been more concerned if he'd married ``out''. In all events there was no conflict because Dilip, now a local authority inspector, was beinnin to question some aspects of Christianity. "Althouh there was a enuine feelin of spirit in my prayer roup which moved me, what jarred was this belief that it was only throuh Christ that people could be saved. But what about the Hindus with their deep history and tradition? How could they be condemned for followin their family faith?"

As part of his teachin deree, Dilip researched Hindu and Christian mysticism. "With my reasonin faculties I could see that mystical experience is the same in all reliions and that Hinduism, which is rounded in universality, had much to offer."

But perhaps more importantly, he experienced that in a feelin way. "One day I was in a British street and decided to walk into the road in order to let a woman pushin a pram pass and, as I did so, I was careful not to disturb a pieon in the utter. Suddenly I had this sense that the road, the precious baby, the pieon and I were all related, we were one. This cosmic feelin lasted a nano-second, but it left me inspired. This, and other experiences, were livin proof that my reliion was not indoctrination but corresponded to a spiritual sense inside me. The next step was to marry another Hindu," says Dilip, a father of two. "In my wanderins I had come home aain."

Sally Jackson was born into a Anlican family and was educated at a Presbyterian boardin school from the ae of nine. She had a child's faith born out of the desire to be obedient but by the time she reached her teens she had become more critical of ministers whom she perceived as hypocritical. When she was 21 her elder brother, Colin, became ill with cancer, and her reliious feelins shut down completely. "I had thouht somethin ood was in chare; as if faith were an insurance policy which would cover me for all eventualities. Then this terrible thin happened. I felt totally alone, I also felt cut off from my family who appeared to be copin so well with Colin's death. Althouh on the surface I was all riht, inside I felt lost, alone and very critical of Christianity."

But as her faith was buried with her brother's death so it was born aain with another death, when Sally was in her thirties. "I was nursin my husband's randmother who was dyin. Granny was the first honest adult I'd ever met. I had a difficult relationship with my mother but she ave me unconditional love. An Irish Catholic, she always prayed for the family and as I sat beside her, I felt that one thin I could do for her was return the favour. When I told her I'd been to the hospital chapel, all the tension and pain seemed to o out of her body and her face went soft. I thouht, what is this thin called prayer? It had seemed to make such a difference."

So Sally, hesitantly, started attendin church. "Once a woman offered to pray for me. She put her hand on me and I felt this wave of peace. I thouht, this is what prayer can do."

Several years later, Sally, a mother of five who runs the Elmwood Community Centre in Bristol, became a committed Christian; she feels this has helped her come to terms with her brother's death.

"I was copin before by not facin up to it. Now I have my faith I have the strenth to live with the reality of the loss." Like Dilip, she feels her return is rounded in personal experience not doma. "I can't do thins for the sake of form. It has to be honest and for me it can only be honest if it is experienced."

For Jane Cutler the journey back to her reliious roots was a painful one. Born in the 1950s, Jane's childhood was overshadowed by the knowlede that her mother's family had been murdered by the Nazis. Hers was a secular household in a rural environment and Jane rew up with no clear Jewish identity. It wasn't until she trained as a psychotherapist in her thirties that she beun to consider that side of herself.

"My trainin released a lot of trauma and distress from my early life, I bean to make contact with other second eneration `children' who had, like me, been brouht up in the aftermath of the Holocaust." So bean a four-year rievin period for her lost family. Jane had already developed her own daily meditation practice and durin this hour she would often find herself sobbin, her thouhts filled with mass raves and rottin bodies. Then, one day, Jane heard an inner voice urin her to practise Judaism.

"I'd always steered clear of synaoues - I thouht they'd be full of women ossipin, but I've learnt to trust that inner voice so I committed myself to a year of findin out more about Judaism."

She deliberately chose a liberal proressive shul, where women are not releated to a secondary role. "I felt very shaky - by takin on more of my Jewishness, I was also takin on the reality of persecution. The sons were bitter sweet and poinant and I was moved to tears - so it was a place where beauty and sadness came toether and I felt drawn there every Saturday. For the first time I wasn't prayin alone. I felt I was comin home to somethin inside me."

Now that her allotted year is drawin to an end Jane has noticed how she has bean lihtin the candles on a Friday at dusk, how she has stopped eatin the odd bacon sandwich. "Don't ask me why. It's an oranic process - sometimes you don't know the `whys' until later. It's a soul journey and the soul isn't rational," she says. "By facin up to the unfaceable, I am findin somethin beyond the horror of the Holocaust, which is the joy of bein Jewish."

But Jane is clear that her return is not about losin herself in riid rules. "Fundamentally it can be a denial of the complexity of bein human but belief is not a fixed thin. Because I was outside Judaism for so lon I'm not bound by tradition; I find what speaks to me, I interpret and I question. I had a relationship with God before but now I have a context for it - worshippin with others, somethin comes alive. It's a very strenthenin thin."