I grew up in the church. My Dad was a Sunday School teacher and committed deacon, and I was involved with praise dance and choir. When it was time to go to church, the whole family went. This meant church all day Sunday, Bible Study Tuesday, throw in a praise dance practice Thursday, and a Youth Ministry meeting Saturday. I grew up in church. I wasn’t even allowed to read or watch Harry Potter because it had wizards and magic. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE JESUS, and still very much so identify as a Christian woman...but my Christianity doesn’t quite feel like that of the Black Baptist church I was raised in.
My mom started calling me a “hippie” after high school. When I moved to Los Angeles, I had my world rocked with all the cultures and beliefs I came in contact with. I began to separate myself from the values that were problematic or limiting and, like most college students, wanted to find myself. I got very fiery about acknowledging the cracks in systems that have existed for centuries, and one of the most obvious scared me because it involved my faith.
Now before you write me off, hear me out. I was getting Bible stories read to me as bedtime stories every night--I never stopped believing, but I found it difficult to continue to practice my faith in the same, quite frankly, routine, manner.
My Introduction to "The East"
My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the Spring semester of my sophomore year and passed that following semester, leaving me completely broken. And if dealing with depression and mourning was not already bad enough my junior year, the pandemic slapped me in the face and took away all my distractions of clubs and hanging out with friends.
While home, I remember questioning God: “Why can’t I get a break? Why must I continue to suffer?”
I’m sure many of you can relate to the question of why me? My Dad was one of the most committed Christian men I knew, and he suffered until the day he died. I was messed up. Fortunately, that same semester I was taking a class called Eastern Medicine, where we talked about Eastern approaches to health and treatment to various diseases. I was so intrigued to learn about how Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices focused on the preservation and strengthening of prana or qi/chi, and wanted to learn more about natural healing practices that could help my mental health and protect me from potentially developing an illness. I couldn't help but try to connect what I was learning in the classroom to my Dad. I would think, did he have a blockage in his 4th chakra that caused his cancer?
The hardest concept for me to grasp was the idea of energy blocks causing illness. This was my first time learning about chakras, which in Sanskrit translates to wheel, in reference to a constantly moving set of energy sources that impact the physical, mental and spiritual bodies. That’s not what we learn in Western Medicine, and it sure isn’t what we learn in church...but my Dad prayed, he was a "good" Christian, so I needed more. I tried changing words in my mind to “fit” my Christian background while reading for class. But I got to a point where I felt like I was missing the point of learning something different just because it didn’t fit the frame of what I knew. This was the start of what some would say was, "my spiritual awakening".
My Fear of Spirituality
I was terrified of venturing into “spirituality”. I find myself wavering between identifying with intellectual, mystical, and authoritarian spirituality. Intellectual spirituality is often described as focusing on knowledge and studying theology as a whole with the intention of improving their own spirituality. Mystical spirituality tends focus on unity and intuition. Authoritarian spirituality, which is where organized religions like Christianity fall into, believe in a hierarchical and rule-based form of spiritual expression. But truthfully, what is so “ungodly” about spirituality? Some define the practice of being spiritual, “...to be concerned with one’s soul (spirit and body) and one’s relationship to God. Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity tend to place emphasis on a fear-based mentality--fearing Hell, demons, the Devil, and anything worldly to distract you or come before God.
In Christianity, one narrative that exists is that to become closer to Divinity, you must become deeply involved in the structure of the church/clergy. A good Christian goes to church, reads the Bible, prays, evangelizes. In many spiritual practices, the way to reach Divinity and experience it is through the mastering and understanding of self. Color and crystal therapy, herbs and traditional healing methods, establishing a relationship with your womb, practicing meditation and chants, etc. all fit into an array of spiritual beliefs. There are literally thousands of methods to essentially deal with earthly problems in order to become closer to God. But there is an emphasis on the journey, and maybe that’s why more spiritual practices are growing in popularity. People are tired of being told a singular method to reaching peace, and to reaching an ideal afterlife.
My other fear of spirituality stemmed from the fear of demons and bad spirits. The term witch would make me uncomfortable, but just as there are archangels and good angels there are good and bad witches. Black healers on Instagram would confuse me when they would do a tarot reading, charge their crystals, and then quote a Bible verse. But I had to check myself and recognize that acknowledging that all people identify with their beliefs on a spectrum, and if I didn't feel uncomfortable with something then I was okay. Casting spells will probably not be something I do, but I can respect that it is something others find solace in so that's their business.
I think something also important to note is that historically speaking, in just about all non-European civilizations there was a natural order and spiritual connection with the Earth. Christianity was often spread by the sword, and the religions of the conquered were erased and demonized. Even today, Haitians are often stereotyped to practice voodoo, but voodoo was villainized by the French because there was a major voodoo ceremony prior to the Haitian Revolution where the French lost. Acknowledging their ritual "worked" would mean their God was not all powerful, so they demonized voodoo and other Caribbean spiritual practices. Sound similar to the Crusades where Christians villanized Muslims? Hmm.
There are Christians who meditate, Spiritual people who pray to God, there is an awful lot we can learn from each other. One of my best friends and old roommates bought me Tarot cards for Christmas, and I literally was afraid to open the book for the first week because I was afraid of participating in something “ungodly”. I had to recognize, however, that my fear was rooted in ignorance. I don't know if I'll ever necessarily do readings, but getting more in tune with my intuition is something I could NOT pass up!
How Spirituality Has Impacted My Life
I have found the most interest at this point with healing my energy centers and practicing chakra breathing and chakra color meditation. (Shangri-LA) I have seen noticed remarkable differences in my anxiety, and this, alongside therapy, have been beneficial in managing my depression. These exercises don't require you to do much outside of focusing on yourself and "seeing" your energy. I've even invested in crystals and specific incense smells to keep my apartment full of impeccable vibes.
What I love about spirituality is its focus on the self, and recognizing the power and influence that you have within you. I do not think that I am all knowing or all powerful, no, but I do feel empowered to take on the earthly challenges that I will come into contact with. The Bible is filled with anecdotes that are sometimes difficult to apply to the real world, but the message is what's most important. The connection to your faith is what is the most important. Isn't that how we get to Heaven? By having faith and a pure heart?
I was more afraid of the judgement of my Christian friends and family members than anything. This is a narrative that I hope changes soon. We have enough things in this world that divide us and cause discrimination. Having my own spiritual journey has made me even more of an advocate for dismantling religious prejudice and demonization. We're all just trying to live the best we can, so I believe we should allow people to find their own paths.
In this post I do not aim to question the practices of organized religions or undermine the practices of spirituality. I, myself, am still learning so much and trying to reach my own conclusions. For me, the more I try to heal my physical, mental, and spiritual bodies, the closer I can connect to God. I don't want to say the "Christian God", because as far as I know my God, is THEE God. By incorporating the ideas I am learning from TCM, African spirituality (under the teachings of Queen Afua), and crystal and color therapy, the easier it is for me to pray and receive lessons from the Bible. I used to sit at sermons upset with myself for not being able to receive the word, but after meditating...let me tell you I can talk to Jesus for an hour.
It may not be everyone’s thing, but one thing I think is imperative to note is that we have to stop the polarization of all faiths. You know why a lot of people get fed up with the church? Scandal, hypocrisy, and many times disliking its rigid and divisive nature. Not all churches and temples are problematic and some have finally tried to take steps towards being more open and accepting. Human to human, we don't know what comes after this life, and organized religion tries to play a part in telling us. The first people God revealed his only-begotten son, Jesus, to were Three Wise Men that came from the East. What religions were in The East? Buddhism, Islam, and other natural and sacrificial religions that were far from Judeo-Christian standards. So who are we to dictate the "correct" path? I believe God reveals himself to us in a multitude of ways, so maybe a journey outside of your own belief core might increase your connection with Him too.
Have you read religious texts of groups outside your own? Do you practice any spiritual practices? Drop a comment below and let me know.
Peace and blessings. <3