Praise break: Why exploring alternative spirituality was healthy for me
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It wasn't until I was 17, sitting in Sunday School at our new church in California, that I worked up the courage to ask the question that I had been toiling with: If people are judged when they die, but when the rapture comes "the dead in Christ shall rise first," what happens in the interim? I asked this question because Sunday School was supposed to be a safe space. A space of learning. It was different than Praise & Worship service, where your testimony would inevitably be judged by someone. In Sunday School, we could wax philosophical on the bible. We were supposed to... right? The pastor answered, telling me that when people die, they await judgement in Abraham's bosom. I then asked if Abraham's bosom was like a waiting room, and was it nice, because it didn't make sense that people who were going to be sent to heaven would wait in the same place as people who were going to be sent to hell. He kind of just stared at me with disdain, shook his head, and moved on to the next person. My mother placed her hand on mine. She knew that I was angry and confused, trying to find clarity about death in the religion she had raised me to believe in. I didn't stop believing all at once, but that was the start. Shortly after that, the same pastor told me that I couldn't be a choir director if I wore pants to choir rehearsal. I smirked at him, relinquished my post as choir director and wore pants to the next rehearsal. He then instituted a rule that no woman could sing in the choir who wore pants to choir rehearsal. I quit the choir. Church, which I had once loved, cherished and looked forward to attending, had become a hostile environment. It wasn't just the rampant misogyny proliferated by the men (and women), it was the looks of disgust when I went natural, the sighs of annoyance when I became more militant (and questioned why the church was no longer a forum for discussing social issues affecting the black community). I was a sinner for being nappy, for wearing pants, for daring to question random scriptures given boldly as answers to questions that I shouldn't even be asking. They told me I needed to pray for anointing. I told myself I needed a break
One of my mentors saw me struggling with my choice to separate myself from the church. I associated church with God, and I still believed in God, but I had no standard regiment outside of church traditions to connect. He gave me a book called The Four Agreements. I read it and felt less lost. It simplified principles that I was taught by my mother (and by the church) for how to behave in life, but it took the fire, brimstone, shouting and falling out of the equation. It also challenged me to question what I was taught by my mother, which was difficult until I remembered a story she'd told me. During her time in college, she'd been tasked with studying different religions and writing a research paper about her experience. I remember her saying that visiting a Buddhist temple was her favorite part. "It was so peaceful," she'd said. So, I gave myself the same assignment. How were other people experiencing spirituality in the world outside of the black church? I studied Islam with my friend Ismael, read books about Buddhism, I attended services at the Church of Religious Sciences in Oakland, and listened to the thoughts of some Atheist friends on their decision to forego belief altogether. I asked questions about Yoruba to my friends who practiced, and learned about the Orishas. This year, I lived (vicariously) as a yogi through my college roommate, observing how meditation recalibrated her energy. Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing in organized religion. After all, what religion(s) or forms of spirituality did Africans practice before the Middle Passage? I gave up the idea that there are only certain ideals that make one worthy of connection to a higher power, that there are only certain portals through which that higher power will listen to me or speak back, and most importantly that there are only certain people with whom that higher power is willing to connect. My church sabbatical (or praise break) turned into a transformation toward open spirituality. That transformation brought me peace about my father's death. Whether he is in some arbitrary spiritual waiting room, reincarnated as someone I'll never meet, or simply vanished from this plane, he was here. No one can deny me his existence. No scripture can diminish my remembrance. I knew him on earth. So, I've stopped looking for praise, tradition, or religion to tell me who God is, how I should behave, and the definition to the meaning of life. Spirituality is a tool to discover and transform into my highest self. One method among millions to set myself free