I may be Afrolatina, but I am a barely there Catholic. Every other Christmas Eve, I end up at midnight mass (read: 7pm or 10pm mass) and I haven’t made it to Sunday mass in over a year because I don’t feel very comfy in my local, brimstone-and-anti-gay-marriage-and-reproductive-choice church. I’m baptized but have neither Communed nor Confirmed nor Confessed. And I’m not sure I ever plan to.
Like so many people, my relationship to Christianity is strained by its history (of pro-slavery, pro-genocide, anti-woman policies), its phallocentric doctrine, and the hypocrisy of its loudest proponents (remember this?). I’ve also always had a soft spot in my heart for less Western spiritual paths. Wicca attracted me as a child and young adult, but the lack of female representatives of color eventually turned me off. Islam is a beautiful religion but only when it isn’t being misogynist, and hell, what isn’t? A college friend’s converstion to Candomblé, and a chance acquaintance with another practitioner a couple of years later, led me closer and closer to la Regla Ocha. But I’m leery about making the jump.
All that said, I’ve gone to Easter mass nearly every year of my life. Sometimes I dress up and sometimes I don’t. But I still attend. Going reminds me of my mother, who woke me and my sister up with baskets of chocolate eggs and candy on Easter morning, dressed us in frothy, pastel colored dresses, and dragged us to church. Afterwards, we’d head over to Nuñez Tia’s house for arroz con gandules, potato salad, lechón, and whatever else Abuela decided to throw down on that day. Easter still means family to me. And it means Latinidad. So I go.
In college, I discovered black Catholics. That is to say, I learned that cities like St. Louis, New Orleans, Mobile, and everywhere else along the Gulf Coast had sizeable and established African-American populations. And unlike most Chicago Ricans I knew, they took their Catholic practice seriously. They went to mass, they owned rosaries. They celebrated Lent.
Whereas Easter is about joyfully celebrating Jesus’ divinity, Lent is about recognizing his humanity and the struggles Christians share as they mark the 40 days he was tempted by Satan in the desert, church leaders say.
This week through Easter, Christians may “give up” a practice, such as eating sweets or drinking alcohol, or pledge to spend more time in prayer or scripture study.
There are also periods of fast, although practice seems to vary. Some say no meat at all except fish, and none on Ash Wednesday or any of the Fridays. Others just fast on Ash Wednesday and Friday.
Well! I certainly didn’t want to be left out of the fun. But by the second Thursday, I’d forget my sacrifice, and by the third Friday I was eating pepperoni pizza in the cafeteria with the rest of the heathens. The next year, I’d half-heartedly try again.
Because of my first encounter with Lent was wrapped up with my infatuation with New Orleans (and Mardi Gras), slavery (and carnivals), black men (and Mr.), my attempts, even when they failed, became part of my definition of diaspora. If Easter reminded me of my own Latinidad, then Lent opened the door onto a kind of rich, historic, diasporic blackness.
Fast forward many moons later, and I’m sitting on my computer one Monday in 2011, Tweeting about violence against women, and wondering what I will give up for Lent. I know it’s coming because I’d just re-tweeted a Melissa Harris-Lacewell shout-out to #NOLA & Mardi Gras. I also know that I am well past the age where I need any religion to justify my sense of race and ethnic identity. In fact, I’d recently decided that God was too big and complicated to ever be contained within any one organized religion. ‘Even Buddhism was beginning to draw my attention, something I swore I would never allow it to do because it’d become the Religion of Lefty Activists and I hated a foregone conclusion.
But I also knew I was still going to try do it, I was going to sacrifice something meaningful and fast on Fridays for Lent. What the hell–why?
to be continued……