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Breaking free from the Roman Catholic Church did not happen overnight. The fear of Hell, embedded since childhood, is a powerful force. I began questioning the Church’s religious teachings and practices during my seven years in the convent. A beginners’ course in Anthropology, taken as a final year university undergraduate, led me to reconsider the nature of being human and our roles as male and female. I recall having an epiphany about the need to change the rules regarding the Church’s Sacrament of Matrimony that was out of touch with our times.

After leaving the convent, I began exploring other religions and spiritual teachings in search of a more expansive vision of The Divine. Having grown up among Hindus, I was aware that they believe in reincarnation after death. The Buddhists, too, I discovered, also embrace reincarnation. The thought of being born again in what I’ve experienced as a violent and unjust world did not appeal to me.

During the year I worked at the University of Guyana Library, a librarian recommended that I read Reincarnation & Karma by Edgar Cayce (1877-1945). The American psychic struck me as authentic. Instead of condemnation to Hell for eternity, reincarnation gives our soul several chances to make up for mistakes made, wrongs committed. Justice beyond the grave. I began looking at my life and our world with different lenses. Who did I wrong or hurt in past lives?

I was pregnant with our second child when my husband and I joined the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Since receiving my mantra from our certified Guyanese TM teacher, I continue to practice the daily mantra meditation. With varying degrees of success over the years, I have used the technique not only as a form of awareness and stress relief, but also to access a higher state of consciousness.

My break with the Catholic Church occurred about a year and a half after we migrated to Brazil. That’s about ten years after leaving the convent. South America’s largest country and economy also held the top-ranking position as the country with the world’s largest Catholic population. The poverty I witnessed every day on the streets of Fortaleza, capital of the Northeastern State of Ceará, shocked me. Though Guyana was numbered among the poorest countries on the continent, I had never seen hordes of children, including toddlers, roaming the streets in search of food. Where was the Catholic Church? What were they doing to address the poverty and destitution in their midst?

I could not identify with such a Church.

Despite the endemic corruption of politicians at all levels of government and the injustices they faced daily, the Brazilian working class never faltered in their faith that God was working everything out for the best. “Se Deus quiser (God willing),” they would get that desired job, promotion, or whatever they needed to enjoy a better life. In 1989, I joined them in their struggle to elect the presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a founding member of the Workers’ Party (PT), in Brazil’s first democratic elections for president since 1960. I couldn’t vote, but I could garner votes for Lulu.

I suffered with them when Lulu lost to the candidate who would resign two years later, under threat of impeachment for his alleged embezzlement of public funds. With Lulu’s defeat again in 1994 and 1998, it seemed that the Christian God had not yet heard the people’s cry for help. What jubilation when Lulu rose victorious in the 2002 presidential elections!

Coming to the United States brought exposure to Jewish mysticism of the Kabbalah and its secrets of the Zohar. A History of God by Karen Armstrong, a former nun, and God: A Human History by Reza Aslan, a scholar of religions, brought fascinating insights on my spiritual journey.

In connecting with people near and afar, as well as with Mother Earth, I have found meaning and purpose in an unforgiving, heartless, and violent world. The life and teachings of Jesus the Nazarene remain my guiding light. TM meditation keeps me grounded and connected with the Universal or Cosmic Consciousness within which we are all one. Taoism, yet another spiritual exploration, offers additional perspectives on leading a simple life in harmony with Mother Earth.

Unknown to me at the time, the American nun who upended my life had been a blessing. In precipitating my exit from the Catholic convent, she had freed my soul from the claws of a patriarchal church.

On the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on American soil, I remember all those who died on that fatal day. I reflect on the misunderstanding, disagreements, and expectations arising from our differences in religious beliefs and practices. I reflect on the Hell America and its allies have created in the Middle East and beyond in pursuit of our own designs. When vengeance begets vengeance, there are no winners.