On Easter Sunday, I arrived early for a brunch with my roommate and mutual friends at this cozy Cuban restaurant on the Upper West Side of New York City. As the restaurant had yet to officially open, I sat in the lobby and began my usual sport of people watching, noticing a beautiful couple with their two daughters. The little girls were all dressed up in their colorful Easter dresses with matching shoes and bright hair ties. It brought back so many memories of my mother dressing me up for Easter Sunday, sitting in church with my hair slicked back into a plethora of tight curls or freshly relaxed and pin straight.
Growing up as a Christian Baptist, I had a very traditional experience of the “Black Church.” Every Sunday morning, my father would wake me up at an ungodly weekend hour to attend Sunday school and recite scriptures with dozens of other small children. I colored pictures of Jesus, Moses, and Jeremiah while embracing the song, “Jesus Loves Me” and its core message. At a young age, church was fun and engaging for my burgeoning artistic mind. Between Christmas plays, liturgical dance, and the children’s choir, I had the best of worlds, religious and secular.
I fondly remember my first pastor, a kind old man that loved his congregation authentically beyond what they could materially provide. Although I was too young to understand his sermons, I reveled in his preaching, following his diction and attempting to keep up with the scriptures in my small Precious Moments bible. After church, I’d run up to him for a big hug, and he’d swing me off the ground, leaving me with a feeling of pure joy. His unconditional love along with my connection to my church family gave me an introduction to spirituality within the context of religion. I’d learn later that these human connections could exist in various other religions and cultures. It was not an exclusively Christian emotion to grow affection toward “good people.”
In my later years, I transitioned to a new church home, continuing my spiritual journey as a high school senior. While I had began questioning my self-identification as Christian for various political reasons, I found myself connecting once again with incredible people within the church, and learning powerful new lessons about spirituality. For the first time, I had a pastor that put a tremendous focus in re-teaching people how to pray. He was adamant about the power of spoken words, even down to the quiet moments of self-depreciation that we all mutter alone in the corner, at one time or another. He taught me that what you speak into the universe, you will receive in return. And since then, that principle has been the core of my spiritual beliefs. My faith in God and the universe, coupled with spoken word, have manifested all types of blessings and opportunities in my life. Again, I realized that this was not an exclusively “Christian” practice but a universal one, shared by many religions and cultures.
Anyone remember the massive connection that people felt with Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret? Same principle, but without the context of religion.
College came and passed. Living abroad, immersed in different religious communities, changed my life. And I arrived to the point of conclusion that my ability to spiritually identify with people of many walks of life under the core values of faith, love, and giving, didn’t need a religious classification. I’ve been privileged to sit and break bread with the Muslim community in the south of Spain. I’ve witnessed spiritual ceremonies in Ghana, giving me a stronger appreciation and union with my ancestors. And I’ve felt connected to the universe in various other non-Christian contexts that have added indescribable value to my life.
While many Christians pick and choose pieces of the biblical principles of Christianity, I personally made a decision that it would be better to simply self-identify as a spiritual being than attempt to maneuver my beliefs within a text with which I often do not agree. I never felt comfortable deeming people of different religions and non-heterosexual orientations as hell-bound. Or deeming myself destined for a heaven that I could not share with other non-Christian goodhearted people. Because life simply is not black and white, there is so much that we, as humans, cannot and will not understand. I’ve come to the conclusion that living by my intuition is the closest I’ll ever get to God on Earth and that doesn’t require a religion or church.
Since I stopped self-identifying as Christian and going to church, I’ve received all types of criticism from loved ones and even some of the men that I’ve dated, claiming this is just a “phase” that I’ll grow out of. I find it funny because I still pray and speak to God frequently, giving thanks for the many blessings that fill my life daily, and yet providing myself the personal freedom to feel comfortable engaging with people of non-Christian backgrounds in discussions of spirituality and religion. My belief is: to each his or her own. And I’ve never felt so empowered.
Reflecting upon the philosophy of Namaste, “I honor you. I honor the place within you where the entire universe resides. I honor the place within you of love and light, of peace and truth. I honor the place within you where, when you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.”
And that’s all that should really matter: honoring people, respecting other’s religious beliefs, and humbling ourselves to recognize that we do not have all the answers. It’s as simple as that.