When writing a personal narrative, I first imagined that it may begin something like this, “Picture this! St. Louis, 2001… a young, black pre-teen girl in a sanctified local church, trying to find her way...” While I’m far from a Sicilian Sophia, I do consider myself somewhat of a Golden Girl. My real journey to self-discovery did begin around that time, at age 11. There isn’t too much of my life that I remember in detail before then. It is true that my molding started well before that age. However, who I am now, in this present moment, stems a lot from who I was encouraged to be at age 11. So, my evolution is demonstrated through what I’ve grown out of. Not what I grew into.
A great portion of my life has been centered around religion. I always grew up in church, singing in the choir, being a member of the usher board and involved in most church functions. After my aunt accepted her spiritual calling as a minister, she left her position at our local church as the pianist and began her own ministry, where my mom and I joined her. We were a significant part of the ministry and took on the task of helping my aunt build. Looking back now, I was seldom asked about my desire to participate in certain positions in the church or how I felt about being in these positions. It was more of a strong suggestion. Little did I know that what I viewed as an honor, at that time, would eventually transform into resentment.
As I grew in adolescence, I experienced intense episodes of rebellion. Or at least that is what I was told. That was also what I was called down to the alter for on Sunday mornings from time to time. As these prayers were prayed over me, accompanied with a thin layer of blessed olive oil, the occasional spit in between words and slight pressure applied to my forehead to encourage me to fall out “in the spirit”. I tried hard to accept this “rebellious spirit” that was being rebuked out of me. I would reason internally about my objection to a lot of things I was instructed or demanded to do. Yes, I was a teenager. Didn’t that sort of warrant this rebellious spirit? Maybe not. Perhaps I was operating under some sort of demonic orders that I wasn’t aware of. Looking back, I was never able to fully accept that I was wrestling with this spirit that outright rejected authority, but rather wrestling with the box that was built around me.
It’s fair to say that the box that was built around me in my younger years wasn’t incredibly small, metaphorically. I was able to move around and even able to look over the box. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that this was still indeed a box. Fortunately for me, I never got comfortable there. I was always trying to cut holes in the box and crawl out. That’s probably what got me called down to the altar on Sunday’s so often. Even as I grew into an adult I was put in front of the church as a worship leader, a position I still value and respect. My job was to be on the frontline of the church service, positioned as a spiritual leader, with the task of edifying the people through intimate worship. As my spiritual perspective changed, so did my sincerity in leading worship. The ritualistic attitudes, the traditionalism and the emotionalism that we as people of God attributed to “the Holy Spirit”, is something I could no longer take part in. There is a scripture in the Bible that says it is better to be hot or cold than to be lukewarm. I had come to a decision that I was indeed lukewarm. I was without a about a fence straddler. That was not a place I would allow myself to become comfortable and muted in.
The stories of my journey to spiritual liberation could evolve into a book quickly, so it’s probably best that I fast forward to 2015, when I lost my aunt. She was my pastor, my spiritual advisor and the matriarch of our family. I still deal with the grief now, with healthy outlets. I’m not sure if losing my aunt is what led me to this spiritual liberation or if I felt more comfortable to step into this journey after her transition. It’s probably safe to say that not having to worry about disappointing or offending my aunt now has allowed me to step outside the four walls of the church and religious doctrine and really become a free thinker. I have become a woman who is actively seeking spiritual truth every day of her life. I never knew how horrifically beautiful expanding my mind could be until I challenged myself to do it. This transition is closely comparable to some form of rehabilitation. Religion had become a drug to me and it was all I knew. To change your thinking is one of the greatest battles. Once your mind is changed, everything else can fall in line.
None of my what I’m sharing is designed to discredit my aunt, my mother or any other spiritual leader I have had in my life. I do not regret growing up in the church and being raised on biblical principles. These principles were stamped on my conscious and put me back in line throughout my life. They helped form a moral foundation and brought comfort when it was needed the most. There was an emotional connection that I had with the church. This connection is not easily broken. I found a lot of myself in James Baldwin’s “Letter From A Region in My Mind”. To quote the literary genius, “There is no music like that music, no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing, and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the Lord”. I also realize that just because something feels good or or tickles my ears does not mean it’s always good for me. Once you our exposed to what is real, there is no going back. Emotion does not always equate reality. Neither does what I’ve been taught all my life equate truth.
My aunt left a legacy behind. It was always prophesied to me that the mantle would be carried on by my mother and then on to me. I believe that to be true but not in the ways that it was told to me. I create my own narrative now and I live by self-governing laws. Therefore, it has now become an obligation and a desire to discover how I will honor my aunt and carry on her legacy in a way that will reflect the woman I am now. I am a woman who embrace consciousness and seeks new levels of awareness. I have flicked the sleeping crust from my third eye.
Breaking away from the church was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The fear that I’d be trampling on my aunt’s legacy has plagued me and still does in vulnerable moments. I have had to spiritually disconnect myself from an entire unit. How can I find sanction in beliefs that no longer reflect how I view life and how it should be lived? This, at times, has left me isolated but has made me seek connections that nurture the woman that is being revealed in me as layers come off. I am sure my aunt would not have expected me to take the path that I have chosen but who I have become, even if not religiously, is still a reflection of who she was.
St. Louis, MO
Alex Roach is 27 year old single mom from St. Louis, MO. She is a very inexperienced writer but she has passion for writing nonetheless. She has finally taken the chance and is sharing bits and pieces of my story in hopes that it will inspire someone. Or at least make them think. Thank you for your consideration.