We are all multi-faceted. Infinite-faceted, even. We have our labels, traits, defining characteristics, and descriptions. Our ethnic heredities, sexual orientations, astrological signs and gender identifications, for example, are all part of what makes each of us unique.
They are useful, but they are not everything. Once you definitively label yourself, it can preclude so many other options.
"What religion are you?" I might be asked, especially when one sees me with an ankh, the Afrikan symbol of Life.
"None," I'll say. Or, "All." Everything and nothing. I'm non-committal. I like Rastafari; I love Nuwaupu, but I wouldn't call myself a devout adherent to either school. The more I say, my words can or will be used against me. How I connect to The All is indefinable, unique, and personal.
"Oh. Well, if you're every religion, then you must be Christian in a way."
"But I could never call myself Christian, because that inherently would preclude me from placing value upon other perspectives." I know this because I used to define myself as a Christian, and that meant that I was on the "right" side of knowledge and everything outside of Christianity was "wrong."
Christians will say, "But there's no lukewarm allowed here. You're either for the Lord or for the Devil. Jesus said he is the only Way!" But how can one organized, tax-exempt sect have a monopoly on how to connect to That which is inherently Infinite? Was Jesus teaching to follow him as an enlightened human being, or is it the Christic CONSCIOUSNESS that is key? "Christ" was a title representative of his state of being, not his last name. (There's also the problematic issue of the blue-eyed white Jesus image.)
I'm not interested in proselytizing to others, or policing something which I can never verify in another. To me, the various spiritual affiliations all have valuable aspects, but they also all carry distortions--hence my hesitancy to align myself with any one faction. What matters the most is my particular relationship to Spirit; how I commune with the Infinite.
Somebody recognized that in me recently. "You and your husband are very beautiful people," a brown-skinned Indo-Trinidadian man told me as we queued at the ferry port waiting to board the high-speed catamaran to Tobago. "As soon as you walked in, I could feel your spirits and see that goodness.
"He, especially, has a good, kind heart," he continued, referring to Dread. It is true, and I accepted the friendly observation.
As the clock ticked on and we waited for hours, the gentleman continued sharing his elderly wisdom and opinions. "This book is full of knowledge," he said as he tucked away the paperback copy of the Qur'an he'd been reading. I nodded and smiled in agreement. "We all seek the Most High in different ways," he continued. "It doesn't matter whether you call on Allah, or Jesus, or how you dress--the relationship with Spirit is what matters most." I told him that I agreed.
"I like the way the two of you look together," he continued. "You're dressed quite appropriately, and it's nice to see." I was wearing a long skirt and sleeveless top that day.
"A woman's body is for her husband," the man went on. Being that Carnival was coming up, his comment was timely in that many near-naked people would be taking to the streets in two days.
He continued explashiating. "It's not necessary to walk around with short short pants, or low-cut tops, or just exposing yourself!" It was one of those moments where the pontification started to go too far, beyond pleasantries, delving into an area that could be very polarizing, especially in Trinidad. I focused on baby Eleven in my arms without comment.
At that moment, a loudspeaker announcement instructed passengers with confirmed tickets to board ship for the 1:30 p.m. sail. I welcomed the interruption, and the sweet man and his wife stood up to gather their luggage and head toward the gates.
To be sure, I always cloak up pretty well for inter-island traveling because of the air-conditioned ferry. But at the same time, I take advantage of the daily gorgeous weather in T&T and enjoy not having to layer up! In one breath, he said it "didn't matter" how we seek the divine or how we dress, and in the next he condemned women for dressing in certain ways. Dichotomous, yes?
Context must always be considered. What had happened was the man took a look at me in one moment of time and painted a picture of my existence that was limiting. He was being complimentary, but was also only seeing one side of the story; one look out of many. Yes, I can dress conservatively, but I can also dress quite liberally, especially given the climate of being in 85 degree weather every day. Especially given I can do whatever I want and trying to please everyone I encounter is a ridiculous notion.
It's not either/or; it's both/and-- and anything is possible depending on the context. And am I any "less than" if I wear shorts and a tube top? Does that presentation of self diminish the sweetness of my spirit? What would he say of my previous life as a nude figure model for university art students? Of my topless pregnancy photo shoot where I had not only my king photographing, but another man I'd met three weeks earlier?
So who AM I? A little bit of everything. What I answer today may be different tomorrow. It can be exhausting to keep track of these distinctions and cultural lenses, and it just goes to demonstrate how fluid these so-called identities of ours actually may be.
In truth, the box you check for yourself can be the coffin in which you die. The labels we place on ourselves can end up being limiting, when our very nature is to be expansive and indefinable. No need to nail shut your own burial box-- why not be great beyond words?