If you had asked me nineteen years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, you would have been surprised to find out that I wanted to be a nun. A life in service to God seemed like the ultimate joy. It was my idea of Nirvana. I had two things working against me, though. For one, I wasn’t Catholic. Secondly, I was fighting my feelings for women. That contradiction between my faith and my reality crystallized a life-long paradox that only now is congruous.
I grew up with a firm personal relationship with God. That meant a relationship that wasn’t defined by attendance to church or participation in several youth groups. It wasn’t defined by whether I was a member of the popularly large denomination in my hometown of East Palo Alto or a part of the double-digit congregation that embraced me as family since before I was born. My relationship with God took form on cool mornings before school when I opted to sit in the quiet chapel rather than play in the schoolyard. It took form on hot Sunday afternoons during sermons punctuated by the rickety ceiling fans that I worried would fly off while I took copious notes. It took form when I found my fourteen-year-old self walking towards the alter during the call to be reborn. It took form in the meditative place of tradition, of communion and ashes, of recitations and song, of fasting and feasting. It took form during my prayers and beseeching to rid the disgrace that was my burgeoning sexuality. I didn’t know it then, but what was taking form was the knowing that God was always with me and always in me. It took more years for me to rest in the liberation of that truth.
My college years marked both the blossoming of self-acceptance and the departure from that relationship with God. I found myself in New York City, geographically and emotionally far from my home. I was able to bathe in a population that was 320 the size of my little city in California, where no one knew my grandfather or grandmother, where expectation is a four-letter word. I could simply be and learn for myself what Being meant.
I also learned that there were still pockets of people who wanted to determine my options for Being. That night in the woods during my junior year still burns in my head. It was when my peers — fellow campus leaders of color — sat me down and verbalized my worst thoughts. That I was an abomination and a sinner. That I was akin to a pedophile and shouldn’t dare call myself Christian. And the strongest parts of myself — the tough, stubbornly independent, “line-leader” Black girl in me crumbled in submission. I never told them nor did I admit to myself that that experience was the beginning of the unraveling of my faith.
I spent the rest of my twenties “church hurt” as my aunt would call it. I would never admit that to anyone but my anger and cynicism spoke for itself. I created rules about never attending church again, barring funerals and weddings. I quietly mocked the pious. I intellectualized my choice as a principled move to disengage from organized religion whose sole purpose, I believed, was to increase its numbers and edify itself. No matter how long and how hard I fought church, there was a longing for fellowship, for community, for God. Never truer were the lines from Mary Stevenson’s “Footprints in the Sand” when God says, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I carried you.”
Strangely enough, the non-theistic, non-religious path of Buddhism is what helped me reconcile my relationship with God. Understanding the true nature of suffering, as well as being encouraged to turn within to the space where God and truth operates liberated me from all of the rules that I created and bowed to. It encouraged me to seek God for myself and in quiet meditation to open myself to Spirit. Simply put, it was a mirror for me to see who I am in God. No longer did I feel the shame of being a part from God as fundamentalist churches deemed me to be because of my sexuality. I was able to see God and tradition with a beginner’s mind, a perspective that pushed me to see the truth and beauty underneath the human complexities. More importantly, it restored my personal relationship and journey with God to the intimate place of my childhood.
I stand now, not as a woman who has it all figured out and doesn’t have other wounds to heal, but as one who knows where to go for the answers. I stand as a woman, a liberated woman, who doesn’t feel pressure to compartmentalize my life and its many facets. I stand as a woman who doesn’t need to explain or defend, nor one that needs to argue or prove herself. I stand whole and holy. I stand with certainty and in truth.
– Aleia Mims
Aleia Mims is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister for whom writing is a form of liberation. She shares her journey so that others may name their own experiences and realize their higher truths. Her commitment to self-empowerment was a key feature of her eleven years as a classroom teacher, and remain as such with her current work at an education non-profit in New York City. Follow more of her journey at liberationtheory.wordpress.com and on Twitter @liber8ntheory.