“We are a complex people” – Cleo Parker Robinson
LivFree is a term I coined several years ago right around when I first turned 30 years old. It was the culmination of living a life dictated by norms, traditions, formal education, and the unsettling sense I had of being chained. Learning later that it was me keeping the traditions and norms in place that kept the chains around my neck. Dropping the “e” off the word “live” and making it one word with free was both a symbolic and creative gesture of my initiation into the world that I saw, the life I chose, and the unbounded free-spirited nature of my personality.
It was a me that I never showed to the world. It was an expression of devotion that I truly had for God/Divine/Love-Beauty/Excellence/Creativity that was nurtured in the spiritual traditions of my youth. There’s a song that says, “I luh God”, and I did, I do, with every fabric of my being. I love what god/the Divine has become in me in my life through my experiences.
This term “LivFree” came through trials and tribulations, an exodus from the depths of tragedy of emotional pain and suffering not unlike the African American Traditional Black Baptist of my family and culture. Being specific here is important as each tradition or each outpost of the denominations of Christianity has very intentional traditions, norms, and history from which culture bears the weight and is currency for transaction within the spiritual setting. But where did my joy of the “Lord” come in to play? It came in the various expressions of devotion within the tradition: the whaling, the call and response, the shouting, the crying, and especially the music. The practices called out to me and through me something very visceral, tangible, like it was a part of me.
I believe Christianity has its roots in Africa and its practices are so varied in each country and ultimately in each denomination. Not until I studied my African roots of spirituality in music while in school at UCLA did I understand my experience as a child. When others cried in church, I cried too and I didn’t even know what I was crying about. It was the emotions the movement that connected to a place in me that I knew not as a child that I have come to know more as an adult. It was a cultural and spiritual connection that has its roots in African traditions that were transformed to fit a western understanding of the Christ.
What I did was repress my expressions of feeling because I felt embarrassed to cry and I didn’t like crying in front of people. I felt like people were looking at me strange and then questioning why was I crying. Self-conscious and self-defeating thoughts ran rampant in me for most of my young life; for not being enthralled with the weekly gatherings in the church. I wanted so bad to sing but didn’t want to be in the choir or with the other kids. I was extremely shy and preferred being with my parents and family in an environment that was encouraging, supportive, expressive, and loving to my spirit. Plus, I liked singing musicals, classical music, and Michael Jackson. But, I went along with the church practice for as long as I could. My parents, the beautiful open and expressive individuals they were/are, didn’t force me to attend church anymore once I turned 13 years old. I couldn’t take the slow dirge anymore and didn’t understand it and even if it was explained to me, that “by and by” message never hit home.
So, I went on a spiritual journey. I knew my life was designed for a Greater Good and purpose. I was not giving up on “god” but on the traditions that put god in a box, that confined god to a book, and to certain practices at certain times of the year. I embraced the Divine as a loving omni-presence that is divinely human in each one of us. It was through my experiences of pain that I met that Divine presence that was closer than close when I didn’t even know it. It was through my experience of god in my life more than anything I ever read or believed that I embraced a spiritual connection again. Not devotion in the “churchy” traditional sense, yet committed to creating, expressing, and Being that is in alignment with the highest representation of myself that I can bring forth at this time.
I gave myself permission to feel and to trust my inner guidance (what I used to call the Holy Spirit) and that I’m not in conflict or disagreement with the traditions of my youth. Some of us here have to experience spirituality in this realm of the expressive and creative to synthesize the bundle of emotions and experiences we and others may be going through. I believe that is why I am here. To connect and serve others creatively, powerfully, magically, happily.
Being Black/African American and spiritual is in full agreement with me and with a beautifully divine presence in me, as me, and through me. My practice of today exists as my ancestors in my family and my extended family and in reverencing their precedent of love and of survival. It exists in my connection to nature and the spiritual practices of grounding with the earth, wind, sun, and water as my First American ancestors and African ancestors did. In the practices of awareness, meditation, intuitive guidance, readings, and energy healing. It is the ring shout, the smell of the foyer at New Unity Baptist Church in Cincinnati where my family went to church and in the deeply rooted experiences of community. I re-member all of these places and am thankful, so grateful for the journey. I LivFree…
What do you call your spiritual practice today? How does it show up for you in experience, emotions, culture, history? Share your comments below. I’d love to hear from you.