I do not believe in God.

That might may shock and even disgust many people. My journey toward this revelation was a long, arduous, and ever-evolving journey into myself, back to my ancestors, that continues to this day.

I was raised Catholic. I went to religious instruction every Wednesday from Kindergarten all the way through 8th grade. I learned about the sacraments and about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I learned about the apostles and Moses. I counted the animals on the ark and every single night, I prayed to the holy child Jesus.

A rosary hung on my bed post. I was a “good Catholic girl.”

Yet, I still did not know God. At that point, I still only understood love as a conditional thing and I was incredibly empty inside. I felt ashamed and embarrassed all the time. I felt wrong, like sin. I prayed often but it never brought me closer to knowing myself. It never brought me closer to God. Puberty was exacerbated by that shame. I was embarrassed by the natural urges inside of me. I was disgusted by my natural teenage lust. I could not love myself, I could not touch myself. I could not be myself under the watchful eye of Jesus and all the Saints.

During confession on Saturdays, the priest told me to pray on it. Everyone told me to pray on any frustration or fear I was feeling. Whenever you are lost, depressed, alone, afraid, full of anxiety, or pain, people tell you, “Pray on it.”

So I prayed. For years, I prayed while maintaining a completely unhealthy self-loathing and shame about my womanhood. I did not “guard” my virginity and “gave it away” to the first boy I thought I had fallen in love with. That made things even worse. I hated myself and hurt myself in response. No amount of praying ever made it right.

My early twenties saw me engaging in a lot of self-destructive and harmful behaviors. Heavy drinking, lots of drugs… I wasn’t right with myself, my life wasn’t “turning out” the way I thought it would. I wasn’t becoming the person I thought I was meant to become. I was not living and no amount of prayer made this better. I was lost and I didn’t recognize it then but, I was losing faith and I didn’t know how to reconcile it.

My Grandmother was a devout Catholic as well but there was something else in her too. Another kind of power that was inexplicable but fierce. She had a knowing way about her and a sadness you could not touch but you could feel.

I still don’t know very much about her life. I used to watch her kneeling at her altar though, candles lit, pristine chalice of water glowing under the candlelight. Her eyes would fix to the spot right above the light and the picture of white Jesus that hung behind it. Her fists, clenched devotedly under her chin as she prayed, sometimes out loud. She would kneel there for what felt like hours, in my childlike perception of time, several times a day.

She was one of the most devoted women I have ever known. She raised 7 children, mostly alone, as my grandfather fell ill and passed young. She was a beautiful woman, powerful, full of grace and I imagined the light of God lived in her. She is the closest thing to an angel I have ever known.

She wasn’t only Catholic though. My grandmother was Lucumí too. “Practitioners of Regla de Ocha or Santería might describe themselves as Catholic, attend Catholic masses, and baptize their children as Catholic, while also practicing their African-based religion in their ilé, or Lucumí temple-house, in their own homes or in the home of a religious elder.”

In the days when missionaries were trying to convert or kill, many practitioners hid their practices or substituted Orichas for Catholic saints as a way to protect themselves from persecution and in later years, the stigma of practicing their faith.

I remember my grandmother getting together with friends to collectively pray and cook. I remember watching them blend salts and make baños and oils. My grandmother was powerful and in my mind, I bet she was a Santeria before she was Catholic.  We will never know because we were too afraid to ask and God killed her with cancer at 73 years old. She died asking him for help and he never came.

All those hours on her knees and he never fucking came.

Every time someone dies we say, “It’s in God’s hands,” and every time my entire soul rolls over and sighs. I stopped believing in God the second they put dirt on my Grandmother’s grave.

Death was difficult to process and when I sought answers, all anyone could tell me was, “it is God’s will.” I have lost so many loved ones to one type of tragedy or another. Everyone gone too young and from “unnatural” causes and every one explained as an “act of God,” regardless.

Who’s God, though?

The expansion of Europe into the American continents was supposed to be God’s will. They called it Manifest Destiny and under that belief justified native genocide, chattel slavery, and hundreds of years of terrorism that lives to this day.

Who’s God, though, the same one that sat with indifference while a monster walked into Emanuel AME Church and killed 9 God fearing, devout people? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Christianity is decidedly white as far as I have ever understood it.   

“…clergymen began to defend the institution [of slavery], invoking a Christian hierarchy in which slaves were bound to obey their masters. For many slaveholders, this outlook not only made evangelical Christianity more palatable, but also provided a strong argument for converting slaves.”

They forced their God onto use so they wouldn’t have to give us freedom. Their God has been holding us hostage ever since. Their God excludes the most vulnerable among us and holding love as something that is always conditional and only given with obedience.

I know this opinion is devastating and offensive to many of my born again Christian friends and family members. Including my father, a man too good and too devout to be told his daughter is faithless. This will certainly break his heart. I am still struggling with whether or not to out myself as Godless.

I cannot, and will not however, fall to my knees and worship the kind of God who sent my people to slaughter while instilling white supremacy into every single thing. It’s awfully convenient to give us a God and a religion that favors white men and I reject it wholeheartedly.

I want to find my ancestors and I want to worship in the ways they worshipped. I want to dance and praise in the ways they danced and praised. I have been feeling my way back to it too. I know the rituals are coded in my DNA like all the generations of trauma. Their joy flows through me, same as their pain and I will find them again.

Because, even though I no longer believe in God, I believe in love. My ancestors coded that into my DNA too and I eat their love inside the sancocho recipe passed down through generations. I hear their collective love in la bomba that has, since my childhood, been beating in my heart, singing me to sleep.

I believe in love. Love is my God, my church, the body, the blood, and the spirit that lives in me. Love, unlike Jesus, has never once let me down. Love is the thing that holds me together when everyone wants to tear me apart and you can’t tell me Jesus loves me because I know love and it isn’t conditional.

Love leaves no one out in the cold, no matter if you are gay, trans, poor, or a hoe, as a matter of fact, love loves you harder when the world rejects you for who you are. Self-love is my revolution; self-love outside of the context of Jesus and church and God.

I have decided to honor, worship, and praise at the altar of my ancestors. I seek to rediscover the Orishas. They are, after all, Olodumare’s eldest children. From now on, if I am to bow, it will only be at the altar of their love. If I am to dance in praise, it will be for me and my kin, my children, and their children, who’s DNA will also be coded in our collective joy. If I am to kneel at the feet of anyone it will be theirs. It will be to honor my space here in the universe, only made possible by the sacrifices made in their space and time.

My ancestors, including my abuela, passed down the rituals, they are inside me, I only have to reach back in faith and love. Their love will most certainly light the way.

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