black girl searching for god.
“Be careful, don’t fall. Your shoe is untied.”
She gestured a small foot in my direction, a silent acknowledgment it was a task she herself could not complete. I stoop down, wobbling on the balls of my feet to find balance. Grabbing the worn laces, I gently whisper, “loop, swoop, pull.”
I felt a hushed thank you through her gap toothed smile as she ran off before my heels return to the ground. While watching the soles of her tiny shoes dart in the opposite direction, I could only recall her eyes. Full of honey and simultaneously, fire. I wondered what she saw that day and in her short lifetime. While at first uncertain of who I was reminded of in the deep wells behind her lids, I was overwhelmed by who I at once recognized.
I saw a girl I knew.
With eyes closed, I am jolted back to my days as a small girl on the dilapidated block where my grandmother’s church stands. I look down and see the off white sandals peek above the white lace in my dress atop the cracked sidewalk. My fingers fiddle with the barrettes at the ends of my small ponytails with nails bitten down to close to the cuticle. I spend my days nervous, for unknown reasons. Perhaps some glimpse of what the future held. Perhaps anxious of the very life I was standing in.
My feet find their way up the concrete steps plastered in grey paint, chipped and worn from the many traveling to seek refuge. The bright red wooden doors muffle the sounds of clanging cymbals screwed into wooden tambourines and stomping feet at the one and three count.
Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Clap.
I follow inside behind my grandmother, bible in one arm, black leather purse in the other as she guides me into the pew covered in burgundy cushioning. The music softens and I watch the congregation turn to the back of the church and kneel down in the pew, positioning their elbows as clasped hands touch their chin.
“Close your eyes and pray“, my grandmother softly demands as she pulls down the hem of my dress.
I sit still and quiet peeking through my lids. My lips mouth words in a pretend prayer although I am reciting nothing. I wonder what others are saying. To who?
The thought thrusts me back to on the street where moments before the small girl stood before me. All at once I realized, there in her eyes lied me. Every instance of joy and pain, I saw myself. I wondered what prayer she recited with her grandmother by her side.
The way you wear the moon on your skin
all the sunlight in between your teeth
the celestial dust in your eyes
and the dense forest that lies in your hair
that grows toward the sun
little black girl
…you are God.
Later that evening, a lamenting.
There are days I wish someone taught me how to pray.
I saw myself everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. There I was, standing in the middle of myself, unsure of my beginning and my end. In all the places I was told to search for God, there was no one to remind me the presence was there living beneath my borrowed skin.
I dreamt of mornings where mint salve sits on the tips of my index and middle fingers and I am named my own healer. I imagined evenings when right before the sky blushed at dusk I would hear a voice, “how long before you bow and worship at the altar of yourself?”
I call upon help from a God not outside of my own body, but the one sitting atop the mountain in my heart.
I choke. My tongue is swarmed with benedictions. A litany that builds an altar. One that does not sit in a sanctuary forsaken, but planted between my ribs next to my Mother’s broken promises and her dreams left destitute. I light a candle to illuminate the dark place and slip from my memory the fetor amongst the ruins. I am an abandoned church whose dark cobwebbed corners were begging for light from an open door or a source other than the orange haze peeking by way of red and yellow stained glass windows. My hands cupped at my chest are pulpits of dust where some a foreign language is written through the particles on its surface.
Today I bow in anticipation. Where there is blood beneath my knees, I still gather gold. Prostrate belly to an earth that birthed me and bathing in a brew of aureate claret, I say a short prayer that we may find god in our art, on our palms and in between our thighs.
I write and pray to the brown girl forgotten. Whose cause it not deemed worth. Every word of affirmation that falls from my lips is not statement or rhetoric – it is the discovery of God. A moment of exposure to light, power and freedom. Each night I pray that I am granted and gifted with new ways to forgive and the calloused parts of our heart are made tender. I implore that when men come for the blood of our hearts and the mothers whose wombs were our first homes step foot first into dreams, we still carry a prayer of worthiness. That even when our fathers refuse to tend to the over grown weeds in our gardens, we do not carry it as our existence and spend a lifetime walking with dead flowers in our fists down aisles lined in red velvet.
I ask that we learn to balm our own wounds watching the hands of our grandmothers as they make music between their wrists and invoke God at their fingertips.
…and there will always be someone there to tie our shoes.
Everyday, I get a little closer to becoming a black girl who found God in herself.