Keep Your Bible: I Found My Queerness in Black Religion (Part I) Initiation

templeindigo.com

templeindigo.com

Sacred, sensual, wildly intentional lifestyle for Black women.

I floated alone. 

The sun’s Jesus piece gold sliced through the ocean’s mild oscillations. Glancing around, chin crossing over chest to shade one shoulder before the next, I surveyed the unfamiliar expanse. My face soaked up the luminary’s warmth, like bee suckling nectar. Though neither landmass nor sign of human life, neither boat nor waterworn plank could be found in the sea’s vast, I was calm. My arms stroked, legs stretched forward and back, unshackled from burden. That I was by myself in an ocean didn’t startle me. Neither did the man who plowed up through its lid.

Droplets cascaded down his whiskey brown face, high cheekbones, his chiseled chest. A skirt of bark covered his body, waist to water. The man hovered, beautiful and fierce, and looked down upon me with an unsmiling, unflinching affection.

“You. You embody masculine and feminine better than them all. The Others,” he urged, “they think they have to conquer the seven seas to find the balance you hold. But you. You know you have to find the twelve.”

I said nothing, just listened, stared at his face. 

A blink later, he disappeared. The ocean was gone. Instead of treading water, I laid in an old cast iron tub that, I recognized, was in my apartment’s bathroom.

A blurry haze projected from my bedroom’s television and filled my actual eyes, now that they were open.

Instead of the ocean or the tub, my body laid sprawled across my bed. Instead of stroking water, my arms cradled a pillow. The television’s glare replaced the sunlight that had just washed over my body. A bland newscaster replaced the spectacular man, his enrapturing words. Only then did I realize, it was well after midnight.

Everything I had just experienced, it was all a dream.

As a girlchild in Brooklyn, I lived in houses of Christianity’s God and frequented churches of my grandmothers. At Grandma Ina’s mammoth Catholic church, she stood straight-backed as she sang along with the unhurried hymns, opened her Bible to read along with the priest, and dutifully joined the line of other Black parishioners to receive the Holy Communion. At Grandma Mabel’s storefront Baptist church, she worshipped in tongues, patted her brow with a small white handkerchief as she preached, swung a hand fan when she sang, “Precious Lawd, take my hand. Lead me on, let me stand…”

On weekends when I visited Mama’s mama Ina, I looked forward to the earthy frankincense and myrrh blend that smacked my nose as it smoked between the church’s walls. Mostly, I went to Daddy’s mama Mabel’s church. As a girlchild no older than ten, Grandma Mabel’s place of worship was heaven. There, the fervor of spirit, the masterful organ play, the belted songs, the full out unrestricted and, often, unhinged performance of Black worship did not only captivate, it swallowed me whole.

It was when I was well into teenage-hood that the customary procession, the ritualistic blessing, the consumption of both bread and wine found at Grandma Ina’s mass no longer held the luster they once did. In those years after Grandma Mabel died, church lacked the euphoria that once filled my body when the organs, tambourines, keyboard, and choir collided to create spirit. That homosexuality was proclaimed sin was, for me, a revocation of the formerly open invitation to Christianity’s houses of God. As my maturation mandated that I understand both the feeling inspired by and the Word delivered within my places of worship, the message became painstakingly clear—my queer ass was not, and had never been, welcome.

The dreamscape I’d inhibited stuck to me like a shadow. For days, I thought about the man who spoke to me, his words. Who was he? I lacked the language and the know. A shaman? I supposed. That thought, though, I didn’t trust. I knew that there was more to the dream, a deeper meaning I had to unlock. If only I had the key. What are the twelve seas? Why this masculine and feminine balance? Unable to decipher the code, I consulted Google.

     Shaman and twelve seas

     Shaman in my dreams

     What are the twelve seas

     Who are the twelve

All this and more I typed into the search engine, thirsty to discover something, anything, about the man and the message he spoke. Dream interpretation websites popped up by the dozens. I scrolled through them all. Nothing, though, seemed to fit. After hours, my questions were still unresolved.

Almost a week passed, yet I couldn’t shake the shaman. The internet brought me no closer to decoding the message contained within his words. So, I changed tactics. I brought the dream to therapy. 

Behind her wire rim spectacles, my therapist—a lily white woman whose office, and residence, was located in a Chelsea high rise—squinted her eyes. Every Saturday for the past month, I talked to her about my recent, consecutive break-ups—one with a woman I was engaged to and dated for five years, the other a rebound.

For decades, I suffered from excessive skin-picking that left my face overwhelmingly blemished and barely recognizable. During that time, I clung to anyone who would have me because no one else will love me was the story I told myself. It was my wrecked love life and self-vandalized face that led me to therapy in the first place.

This week, though, I changed the topic of conversation.

 

“I believe he was a shaman. That he was trying to tell me something important. But I can’t figure out the twelve seas,” I urged from the long couch arranged on the wall opposite her high-backed chair. Between us, a thick carpet laid on a laminate floor. Three feet from me was a glossy end table. This was the first session that I left the box of tissues stationed on it untouched.

“I believe he was a shaman. That he was trying to tell me something important. But I can’t figure out the twelve seas,” I urged from the long couch arranged on the wall opposite her high-backed chair. Between us, a thick carpet laid on a laminate floor. Three feet from me was a glossy end table. This was the first session that I left the box of tissues stationed on it untouched.

“I think you may be reading too much into it,” she said, her fingers loosely steepled in front of her chin, as if in prayer. 

“I don’t know. I don’t ever remember dreams. But this one, I remember like this morning’s breakfast.” 

“Perhaps the news mentioned ‘twelve’ while you were asleep? Reportage about the ocean, even?” she suggested. 

“Perhaps,” I replied as my fingers fidgeted along my collar, my eyes slinking into a squint like hers. 

 

We stared at one another for some time as I intuited that she was ill-equipped to help me make sense of it all. I need to find a Black therapist, crossed my mind. Thinking about the money I already paid for the session, I lapsed back into conversation about my former love life, my current skin. When the time was up I left her apartment, not one Kleenex sheet sullied. Later that week, I cancelled our next session. Then Nia’s name popped up in my phone.

After we spent some time catching up, it had been at least a year since the last time we spoke, Nia got to the business of her call. “I’m working on a new play. Honestly, I don’t know how yet to include you, but Spirit told me to invite you into it,” she said.

I drove from Brooklyn to the East Village for the first rehearsal of Nia’s developing work. Inside the small theater, Nia sat before a compact table topped with a white candle, a wine glass filled to the brim with water, a colorful floral arrangement, burning incense, and books with words like “Yoruba” and “The Orishas” typed across their spines. When Nia finished curating the table’s items, she and the cast sat in a circle with the table at our side. With Nia as our guide, we called on our ancestors, gave thanks for all the good in our lives. Temple to temple, the dream pulsed across my head. Maybe Nia, I thought, would know more about shamans than I.

To celebrate the performance, only after weeks of rehearsals and the curtain finally closed, we all drove uptown to a Harlem bar to celebrate. There we danced as O.T. Genasis spat, “Hit my plug, that’s my cholo. Cause he got it for the low, low,” from the speakers. Winded from the dancing intertwined with Newports, Nia and I found a corner table as everyone else continued to party. Over a cocktail and under the music’s blare, from ocean to tub, I told Nia about the dream.

“What do you think it means?” I asked. 

 

Sweat-sheened and essential oil-perfumed, Nia shifted closer to me on the bench. Her eyes honed on mine before she spoke, “Sis, I think that was Yemaya.” 

Though I heard the name before when watching Love Jones and while at an event or two in New York’s Black queer literary art scene, I knew nothing of Yemaya. “Yo, I’ve heard that name! Who is that?” I prayed. Nia propped her elbows on the table, and I leaned in, prepared to become the ever-studious disciple.

“In Yoruba cosmology, Yemaya is the Mother of the ocean…”

Nia’s mention of the ocean opened me up wide, unleashing a furious curiosity for knowledge about a topic I never knew existed. As she continued to speak, I realized I had more questions than she had time. When she was done, instead of holding her up from the celebration of her work, I tabled my curiosity and accompanied her back onto the dance floor. But after the DJ announced, “Last call!” and the celebration was done, I raced home to Brooklyn, to learn more.

You can read Part II of Nicole’s series, Keep Your Bible: I Found My Queerness In Black Religion here.

Sponsored

Let us bring the temple to you.

Sign up for story updates, gifts from our partners, and more. No spam…ever.