May 1, 2013

It Wasn’t Until I Stopped Going to Church That I Found My Religion. ~ Sayni Perez

Beyond the church walls an omnipresent God awaited me.

I’m sure that there are as many who can agree with me as there are who find me irresponsible in saying this, but first, let me explain.

I grew up in this stuff. I’ve attended countless numbers of churches in New York, New Jersey and in the Dominican Republic, where my family immigrated from. I counted rosary beads with my grandparents. I spent most of my Sundays in church, from service to catechism classes. Cries of sleepiness or feigned headaches never ever got me out of it. If that wasn’t enough, I even attended private Catholic schools.

Believe me, this is a bold statement to make in my world, almost equivalent to coming out of the closet. No, family, I’m still straight, but what you have probably been thinking all these years is true—I’m no longer Catholic.

The abridged version of my path goes as follows:

I stayed on the path laid out for me throughout my middle school years. The extreme break from God came about my mid-teens, which consequently bore the disastrous results that devout Catholics warned me about. I’d like to call that era “Sex, Drugs and Hip Hop”–I wasn’t much of a rocker.

I rebelled and I experimented.

My family suffered and soon enough I began to suffer. For a long time, I was lost. However, even in my lowest point, I didn’t feel abandoned by God. I prayed and asked for forgiveness. I repented. That was the Catholic way of life; you come back and say you’re sorry. Let the guilt guide you, oh, prodigal daughter!

I’m my mid-20s another stage of my relationship with God came about.

I was a young mother and a student at a local community college. Though I still lived with my Catholic parents, they weren’t involved in my academia where I was able to think, compare and discuss my thoughts about religion freely.

No judgment—Christians, Muslims, Jews. I think we cared more out our different tastes in desserts than in religious preferences.

It was at this point that I began to associate my Catholicism with my past and a new religion began to emerge.

It had no name and no home. It just—existed. All I knew is that it was a contradiction. It believed in evolution and it believed in the Creator. It accepted Jesus and the Bible with the same passion it believed Adam and Steve should be free to marry! How dare it be so controversial?

It became easier to just consider myself a “Christian” to the outside world and not answer too many questions. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be defending if someone challenged it, so how could I protect it?

I knew my faith still existed and that it had a bit of a makeover, but now it was time to find a home. The Catholic Church had a special place in my heart, but with all due respect, I knew it was time to move on.

Through a friend, I found a great church, a non-denominational place of worship that brought spiritual enlightenment and joy with an energetic choir and the most empowering lectures. It deciphered the Bible in a way that not only could I understand it, but relate to it personally. I loved it. I put my name on the list and I was ready to become a member. Then life, as it usually does, happens.

Once the effects wore off, I was back to where I started. Lost.

I made the efforts to go when I could, but then going to church become more about “the effort” than the purpose. Could I get there on time today? I don’t have any clothes to wear! Will I be able to sit in the back?

Soon, my personal commitments made me too busy to attend, and I began to rely on my excuses as a way out.

Interestingly enough, I always found time for a work out in my spare time, so why not the church? Am I again walking away from you, God?

I reflected on this while in the park one day. Lying on a bench after a good workout, I stared up at the branches. I allowed myself to be present in that moment, watching the clouds move ever so slowly, the swaying of the bare boned branches lulling my mind. It was then that a wave of peace just washed over me. I exhaled.

I smiled at the sky and in that silence. He spoke. In that silence, I was able to listen.

I ran home, knowing that something special had happened to me in the park that day. I began to forgive myself. For everything. That 31-year-old bag full of Catholic guilt had been hard to carry and my shoulders were tired. My mind was tired. It was then that my senseless path began to make sense to me and I began to slowly unload.

And so the weeks have turned into months and every day I feel more and more connected. I feel more peace than I ever have in my adult life.

In my books, in my conversations, in my relationships, in the park, I see God everywhere and in everything. I feel love and I feel peace.

If I didn’t make it to church, I didn’t miss God because he stayed home with me! I make time for Him, in my own way and he doesn’t judge me!

The new journey of understanding my faith within my new religion is now here, and I have never been happier. I can only hope that the God or Greater Being you believe in accepts you and loves you for who you are and can fill your heart like it did mine. It truly is life changing to feel that kind of love. And to think, this is only the beginning


Sayni Perez is a New York City native, this dance mom and philosopher resides in Northern New Jersey with her mom and daughter.




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Ed: Wendy Keslick/Kate Bartolotta

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