Hope you had a relaxing weekend. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Carefree moms out there! And a special shoutout to my mom (who I know is reading this right now). Mom, I love you to the moon and back. Thank you for raising me, and giving me lots of love, discipline, and care. One day isn’t enough for all that mamas do.
Also, sending love to those who may have lost their mothers or don’t have a/have a complicated relationship with theirs.
And yes, I know Mother’s Day was yesterday. This storyletter is from the past.
This Week’s Story
a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.
“Prayer is limitless. It is larger than any one practice because it is a practice of spirituality, which overlaps immensely in many forms and denominations of religious tradition but does not belong solely to any one organized religion.”
In this week’s story, we hear from Nigerian-American writer Chioma Gathoga-Ogbuike on her journey to reclaiming prayer on her terms. Not under the guise of religion, but under her own sacred, self-defined view of spirituality. I don’t know how many of you are religious or believe in a higher power, but whether it’s practicing gratitude or getting on your knees to call on God, we all tend to pray in our own way. Just know that you’re allowed to define your spiritual path, it’s not up to anyone else.
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EIC of Carefree
by Chioma Gathoga-Ogbuike
This piece is a testimonial meant to share a personal journey to building a relationship with prayer, but it is not intended to shame or condemn anyone or any practice.
At 23, I discovered, finally and gradually, the power of prayer—a newfound yet constant love that has brought me deeper into myself, closer to my childhood spirit, closer to self-sustaining wholeness and oneness; I have finally begun to see myself.
But I didn’t always see myself. In fact, at one point in my life, I had given up on prayer altogether.
I was baptized at the age of three, and for most of my childhood, I was raised in the practice of both the Christian and Catholic religions upheld by my Nigerian relatives.
In his life, my father, the rebellious & spirited, new-age yet still old-school Rastafarian, was rather vocal about the philosophical and material difficulties he had with this same organized religion. He was born and raised in this culture, in alignment with the beliefs of The Church. He then grew up to liberate himself from these religious expectations and yet, still coordinated and facilitated the baptisms of his only two children anyway.
As a child, it became clear to me early on that the faith that reared me would never accept me. I was not even ten years old the first time I learned of religious community members back home organizing to burn people alive if they were found out or suspected to be gay.
It was this interpretation of God that first misled me to believe that something was wrong with me. I believed there was a flaw in my creation, and that being myself would never be acceptable. Still, I did not give up on building a relationship with spirituality. My childhood and teenage years were devastating, cold, bleak, and violent. For as long as I can remember, I have always needed something bigger than myself to believe in, to drive me to keep going, to remind me I cannot give up, to affirm that I am supposed to be here.
By the time I was 18, I wanted nothing more than to be devoted to another Church; a different denomination altogether. One that I believed would better represent my experience growing up as an African-American woman. In The Church where I was baptized, I hardly ever saw anyone that looked like me or families like mine. I hoped this difference would be what I had been missing all along. To my deepest dismay, it wasn’t. As much as I yearned for community, there was still no home for me to be my full self. Only fractions of myself were welcomed. I had to exist quietly and as small as possible.
My spirit never could remedy the degree of perfectionism that was expected of me, in order for my devotion to be validated in the eyes of God as told by the Church. There is a culture of purification via dehumanization that is often rooted in certain religious beliefs or practices. This violence has made religion unsafe for so many people, of so many backgrounds.
Many of these customs, under the guise of devotion, have been weaponized in countless ways to justify the violence of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so much more. People across generations have been violated, traumatized, and discarded physically, spiritually, and mentally in the name of religion.
For years, I found myself stuck in the cognitive dissonance between knowing that I do not fit in and the pain of yearning to belong, still.
This tumultuous relationship to religion fueled the internalization of inadequacy. I was a natural-born reject, The Church confirmed it. In addition to that, I came of age terrified to be who I am, to be myself.
The loneliness paired with the inadequacy led to years of self-deprecation. Years of shrinking. Years of being personally lost. The self-deprecation was so interwoven into my identity, my inner voice, that I had no idea where it ended and where the real me began; it was all one and the same. I carried myself as if I was not worthy of love and did not deserve to be included in things that are good.
As I began to forge my path into adulthood, managing my survival meant breaking free of all of that.
As I came into my own, I consciously and subconsciously distanced myself from all things and agents I believed to be associated with The Church. I dismissed all things religious and spiritual as being the sole property of the Church and unrealistic for my life, including prayer. It was here that I began to lean into allowing myself to be every part of who I am. At the time, I thought I was finally liberating myself.
Still, for so long I found myself lost and displaced in my spirituality. I viewed spirituality as only being possible by way of The Church. The danger of normalizing only one or a few forms of spiritual and religious practice is that so many are subsequently forced to condemn themselves for that which makes them human or be cast out of spaces of spirituality altogether, with no other examples of what can be possible.
Not until I was alone in the big little world of New Orleans at 22, away from all I had ever known, external expectations, ideas, and prescriptions of me, that I had the space to be open to healing the metaphysical voids inside me.
Depressing desperation, gaping wounds, and utter confusion led me to what must have been rock bottom. In a place where I knew no one and nothing, I navigated feeling more alone in the world than I had ever felt in my life. To break me wide open, and open I became.
Initially intending to be a journey into self-healing, self-nourishment, self-validation, and self-care, the practice of identifying and uplifting gratitude opened a new and unexpected door for me. Through this door, I discovered the practice of prayer as self-preservation. It was practicing the identification and expression of gratitude that soon brought me into my own ancestral education and exploration. For it is indisputable fact that many came before me in order for my current existence here in this world to be possible. The preservation of the lineage that made it possible for me to be here is not coincidental but Godly.
My practice began with baby steps. Gradually as it became stronger, my love for myself and everyone around me grew immensely. Protection and discernment have come to me comprehensively the more I pour patience and consistency into learning more about my spiritual practice.
My life was never the same once I realized that my spiritual practice is special because it is personal because it is mine.
Recently, I discovered the stories of my lineage; of my grandfather’s relationship to religion. He was a trusted leader and advisor to his community all his life in our village Akama Oghe in Enugu State, Nigeria. He believed so fiercely in his roots and the traditional culture of his people that he firmly resisted the pressures to assimilate to the British colonization of Nigeria by adopting Christianity. He would eventually convert, but only 5 years before my own baptism. My grandfather’s faith is derived from the preservation of Odinani, our Igbo spiritual tradition annihilated by colonialism and racism.
A reminder that we were never meant to fit in from the start.
Prayer is limitless. It is larger than any one practice because it is a practice of spirituality, which overlaps immensely in many forms and denominations of religious tradition but does not belong solely to any one organized religion.
For me, my practice currently includes daily prayer which is sometimes in the form of journaling, sometimes in the form of naming my burdens aloud, and sometimes celebrating my gratitude—whatever I feel.
Also in my spiritual toolbox:
burning 7-day candles,
mixing herbs at home,
spiritual lunar-aligned baths,
singing or dancing to music or whatever moves me
self-forgiveness and in time granting forgiveness to others
keeping my crystals close,
meditating on the love and power within my lineage
The biggest lesson has been that spirituality demands freedom, demands that you learn to liberate yourself. When the space for exploration is allowed, prayer can serve as the most powerful and grounding practice instilling balance in the presence of chaos. Prayer can cultivate peace and patience, uplift joy even amidst misery, and can manifest goals and dreams both big and small. Prayer can be the ultimate reminder of personal power and purpose; aligning you with the gifts already within you.
Prayer brings you back home to yourself. Sometimes there’s discomfort but that’s a great indicator. You can begin by expressing yourself the way you know best, by practicing stillness, or by praising the breath that moves through you. Prayer is as powerful and as simple as tapping in, choosing love, and forgiving yourself.
Something that anchors me when things feel hazy or elusive on this journey of life, is to remember all of the resistance, fight, and sacrifice that made way for my existence. This is when I remember the duty I have to liberate myself is actually much bigger than me, and I am reinspired every time.
Chioma is a writer, creator, womanist, advocate. B.A. Women, Gender Sexuality Studies and Afro-American Studies —University of Massachusetts Amherst. Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice certified.
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