As a child I went to religious schools. Schools named after Saints such as Saint Francois Xavier and Saint Sulpice in Paris.
Some of my courses were taught by friars, the one wearing brown robe and sandals in all seasons or seen on the labels of box of camembert or bottle of fine liquors.
I remember one friar, who taught religion, because he always rubbed the palm of his hand on the corner of his desk, the palm of the hand with a missing finger. He had a goatee and permanent red cheeks.
His class was not easy for me, being the only Black kid in the class; I always thought that looking at me reminded him of his purpose to join a religious order. Maybe, I was his version of the savage whose soul had to be saved.
I kept away from him after one of his kind slapped me in church for talking to my school mate.
I never said that France is color blind, especially in the late fifties when seeing a Black person walking down the streets was considered exotic or an oddity to the mass.
Actually, almost all my teachers had a round at slapping my blackness and I never retaliated. During exam times I had at least one to two slapping bout a week.
I knew I was different but I was reminded of my blackness around 10 years of age when a class mate called me nigger (nègre in French) during recreation.
I cried and told the director and his reaction was to go away laughing.
Two teachers never slapped me. I remember the name of only one, Monsieur Piat, and the other was a physical education teacher. Their specialty was psychological torture with a racial tone.
These were fine Catholic schools with a crucified Jesus as main decoration in all classes. I hated school.
We were, class by class, obligated to go to church, the confessional and swallow the ostie on a weekly basis.
We all were good certified Catholics and could prove it with a baptismal certificate and confirmation and first communion pictures.
During the holidays we were given cards to be signed and date stamped by the priest wherever we attended mass.
Once the indoctrination process completed I felt liberated and never went back to church.
Believers told me they felt illuminated, uplifted and full of hope after a church service and I wanted to have such experience.
So, again, but free willing I went back to church and felt absolutely nothing. I changed faith, thinking that my soul was trapped in the wrong religion and again felt nothing.
I went back to Catholicism, the Christian religion which spent years brainwashing me by telling me that we are God’s children.
I, again, did all the rituals by standing up, sitting down and bruising my knees on the pews and listening to sermons about allegoric and unseen forces affecting my tangible and imperfect world.
Again, I felt nothing and the sermons interfered with my human logic, unsettled my intellect and raged me with its bias.
At no time did I see the path leading to the nirvana state that others experienced.
I do not know if religion is a good panacea. Africa is among one of the most religious continents of the universe but then it is also the one with the most wars and conflicts.
Africans are spiritual and yet they make potions from albino’s body parts or kill twins which are a sign of bad omen and have large praying rally for the people coming back from The Hague after being heard for crime which they may have committed against humanity.
I gave up on the idea of being religious and spiritual and to date I have never experienced any Holy Ghost type of activity in my soul.
I seriously tried but there is nothing within me, not even a tinge or a twitch, announcing a trance, shaking me or making me speak in tongue like the one I see on TV.
I am not an atheist; it takes too much strength to prove that something supreme does not exist so I straddle in the agnostic world.
That’s easy for me; I respect what other people think as long as they don’t take me for crazy or an idiot because I do not share their ideas of the beyond.
It does not mean that religion is bad. I think some religious buildings are great work of architectural arts. Religion provides a CV for prisoners requesting parole. The church bells are good to adjust time. Commercial religion has worldwide tax-free benefit. Religion is an alibi for corrupt African big men.
But then, my paradox is that I like religious music. I like gospels, I like Black American gospels with a lone singer stomping, moving, and jumping in front of a large choir and the haunting Gregorian chants.
Gospel music is beautiful. I don’t agree with the meaning of most songs but I rely on the expression of the singers. I like their happiness, joyful exuberances and energy. I like the way they improvise.
It does not mean that I make it a purpose to listen to it but when it comes to my ears, I pause and take time to enjoy. I can enjoy for hours.
Gregorian chants are solemn, mysterious and sublime to listen. The voices make me close my eyes while listening. Gregorian chants offer a pure calming, transcending and soul enhancing bliss.
Warning: To listen in small doses. Gregorian chant may be hazardous to your health. When feeling low it can drive you to abysmal depression leading to dementia. In the event it occur switch to Gospel music.
That’s my true Black experience shaped by Christianity.
- J2J Day 14: Gospel for Teens in Harlem (annecarolinedrake.com)
- A Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Music (brighthub.com)