As a child, I always felt different and out of sync with my friends and classmates. The things that were popular or considered fun, never resonated with me and what I liked and enjoyed was strange to them. I was an old soul in a child’s body. I was a precocious child who, by four and five years old, had insight and understanding of the people, circumstances and the topics of most adult conversation I was privy to hear. I worked hard at being a child and did my best to blend in.
An only child until the age of nine, I was mostly in the company of grown folks, primarily my maternal grandmother, great-grandfather and their friends. I was expert at being seen but not heard and I was a damn good listener. Adults were open and candid in speech when I was around because I was good at feigning preoccupation. I could be so quiet as to render myself practically invisible. I listened and learned and understood the majority of what they said. I learned to read and write before I ever attended school. I felt things instead of thinking them. An intuition that enabled me to see beneath the surface of things was under development. This kind of intuition has a powerful inner voice that is impossible to ignore. It has been a guiding source in my life and has served me well, more so, than rational thought.
By age 12, I had experienced 4 different religious expressions — the fire and brimstone of the sanctified church and the foundations of the Pentecostals, the rites and rituals of Catholicism, backwoods Baptists and the modicum of moderation of the Methodists, but none of these helped me with the answers to the questions that burned within my young mind– Who am I, and why am I here?
Like many black girls with parents or grandparents whose roots were in the deep South, I was raised in the church — all day Sunday, a meeting on Tuesday, a service on Thursday and back again all day on Sunday. By age 12, my parents began to send me off to church alone with money to tithe. I asked questions that my Sunday school teachers just didn’t like and they often exhibited frustration at their inability to give credible answers. I really wondered and asked “Is God white? All the depictions in the black churches I attended in 1950s and 60s depicted him as such. It seemed a logical question. When I wanted to understand the concept of an immaculate conception and the role and relationship of Joseph to Jesus, if God was his father, I was shot down and made to feel as if I’d done something wrong for simply asking. And, what about the Holy Trinity? I understood the father and the son, but who or what was the Holy Ghost? I genuinely wanted to understand but there were no clear answers, at least none that made sense to me.
I liked to sing in church and on occasion sang solo. One of my favorite songs was, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” While in church one hot summer day I picked up a fan that had a picture of Jesus on the back. There he was like a matinee idol, flowing blond locks cascading around broad shoulders, his dreamy ice blue eyes giving me a sexy come hither look. The caption read, “Come unto me.” Something just didn’t seem right about it.
I began to play hooky from church services opting to spend my tithe on candy. Until . . . I was discovered! To my utter surprise, my parents did not punish me for absconding, nor was I forced to return. Although I willingly and willfully left the church, I credit those early experiences to opening me to spirit. Once left to my own devices, I began to seek a deeper connection to my soul and to God. The field was wide open to explore.
I floundered during the early days of this newfound freedom and release from weekly services. I hung out at the newsstand at my neighborhood drugstore for hours perusing issues of fashion and teen magazines. Sometimes, I’d slip in for the triple feature matinee at the neighborhood movie house. Next to home and school, my favorite place was the public library. I loved books (and still do), especially the plays of Tennessee Williams, Paddy Chayefsky and Eugene O’Neill. None of my 5th and 6th grade classmates had a clue about these writers. I was truly in my own little world.
I was 12 when the Beatles first came to the U.S. and was immersed in the music of my youth — Motown, the British invasion, pop, rock and R&B and I listened to jazz. I discovered my sun sign and began to explore astrology. I read Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” which introduced me to Buddhism. I discovered there were many religions in the world and I wanted to know more about all them. It was all great fun, but the spirit of the church was deeply embedded. I often recalled my earliest experiences of preachers, musicians, songs and spirit dances. I had witnessed the intangible power of spirit capture the unsuspecting in its grasp to make them talk in tongues, foam at the mouth, or pass out. I missed the testimonials of transformation shared in congregation for others to bear witness. There were times when I was young and had no filters to jade my perception that I, too, sensed spirit moving like an ominous presence that swirled around and through me. Rising up from the bowels and belly, it swelled into an orgasmic eruption forcing me to let go, lose control and feel space and freedom beyond my body and mind. I felt it. It was real.
By age 12, I intuitively understood a great truth – I Am That. That I Am. The path had opened and a life long journey into Self, Soul and Spirit had begun.