I can remember sitting on the stiff pews of Our Lady of Peace church on Tuesday mornings. I couldn’t have been much older than six or perhaps seven. No matter the time of day the church was always dark and the twelve red candles which were placed under Christ’s bloodied image glowed against the dusty wood paneling. I hated being in church. It reminded me of the time my older cousins trapped me in my grandpa’s basement and turned out the light. Dark, old, and alone. This is how I saw religion. When father Grimes would take his place on the stage and pontificate about our vengeful lord I would imagine God sitting beside me and giggling along. I had decided quite early on that whatever strange things my teachers told me about life and God, they were not the truth. From the moment my bottom hit the pew, I would turn off and shut down.
Although I didn’t believe in God the way the old priests described him I still followed some of the bible stories. Until one December evening when I was on my way to my school’s Christmas pageant where I was starring as the Virgin Mary. My mother told me that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, my brother agreed with her, and I cried the whole way to the pageant. Even our beloved Christmas pageant seemed hypocritical and blasphemous. I was the mother of our lord and I only had one song and one line, while the cow, Betsy, stole the show with her four solos and twelve lines. Looking back it does seem twistedly accurate that a farm animal would be aloud more talk time then the blessed virgin.
I learned to resent religion early on. I hated it, I poked fun at it, I cut it out of my life completely and I never looked back. There was however, always a deep spiritual pull that resided within me. As a child I would climb to the top of my favorite tree and sit on it’s branches. I would spend hours wondering about reincarnation. I would develop stories of my past lives and become fixated on the details of them. I would wonder about heaven and hell and what the face of God looked like. On summer days I would run outside into the green of my backyard hungry and I would return hours later full. I was feeding on my spiritual connection with nature and deep thought.
I found spirituality again in my high school English class. There, we discussed dozens of books of which I had never dreamed of. These precious texts weren’t traditional or scholarly and most importantly they weren’t written by men. They were written by women, all kinds of women, and for the first time I was allowed to hear their voices. I had never before been able to connect with someones story the way I could then. It wasn’t just the stories that spoke to me. Everything down to the words these women chose were different. Even the sound became something other worldly and uniquely feminine. I explain feminism as something spiritual because for me it was. It opened a door which allowed me to connect with women on a deeper level than similar life events. I could connect through bodily and emotional experiences of the familiar feminine. Feminism was a snack for my soul, but still my hunger grew.
I was introduced to Universal Kabbalah in the spring of 2008 and I have been studying it ever since. I was young and living in New York City on an internship experience when I was taken in by the loving embrace of Naam yoga and all that it could offer me. I can still recall the way it felt sitting in the studio under the skylight, breathing deeply and letting my mind clear. In a moment of meditation I became genderless, and lifeless all at once. I had no sense of future or past that I could recall, I simply was. That single drop of time allowed to begin an important realization. We must stay connected with our bodies while remembering that we are not a product of them. We are simply spiritual beings having a human experience, and we all came from the same place, and we are all connected.
I believed that I was learning the truth. What I did not realize however, was the extent or power of it. What I was learning and had spent my entire life hungry for, was true love. This is not a romantic love, or a love for one other. Instead it describes a love and empathy for all. Recently I’ve been exploring texts by Layli Maparyan, Gloria Anzaldua, and Buddhist nun, Sister Chang Khong who have written extensively on spiritual activism and womanism. I have interpreted the idea of womanism as one that is fully inclusive of all people and lies in the belief that all beings are interconnected. To inflict harm on one, is to inflict harm on oneself because we cannot survive with out one another. This idea reaches far beyond viewing others as only human to include all living beings. In her memoir Learning True Love, Khong explains that we must help uplift one another in the present moment and we must work with love in order to find what we seek. In now let us shift, Anzaldua explains that spiritual activism takes place when the our inward transformation begins transform our outward actions.
By cultivating spirituality and allowing a space for it in our social movements and actions I believe that activists such as myself can find greater mobility for our causes. When we are outraged by a policy or an event that we see compromising our human rights or damaging our community, the most comfortable response would be to work from anger. Our horror is what pushes us into action. We want to fight against the enemy for our cause. When we stop and practice mindfulness, as Khong explains in her book, we can begin to move away from viewing the one who inflicts violence on us as our “enemy”. I personally like to use the example of “I am the rapist, I am the victim” By identifying with a rapist we are in no way condoning rape. We are simply acknowledging that we live in a society that allows for rape to occur, and that if we were to walk a mile in his shoes, perhaps we too would have made the same mistake or become the same kind of person. When we are able to see God in every living thing then we will be able to move from a place of love rather than hate. Hate and anger fizzle out very quickly. They are exhausting emotions and if you base a social movement in them, your cause will never succeed. True love is immensely powerful and it will provide the mobility needed to bring about social change.
If this concept is an uncomfortable one that’s okay, be patient with it. We must remember the real reason why we strive for social change. We recycle and vote for green policies because we love our earth. We push for a better educational system because we love our children and teachers. We speak up about violence against women because we love our sisters. This is where our outward actions should live. By becoming powerful we can create equality and change our society and we can do this by learning true love.