By Mariah Hicks. Photography By Deun Ivory.
I have always been a woman of divinity. A woman of Zion. A River of Jordan with a holy current flowing through my veins. Glory has always rested within me, but I never truly recognized this truth. I rarely peeled back my layers to explore what resided beneath. I didn’t know I held the keys to a divine experience that had the power of transforming the way I existed within this world.
It took a long time for me to realize that heaven was not just an abstract dimension of an unreachable spirituality. It was and has always been something stored within. My skin and bones have always embodied holiness.
I used to stand outside reaching for the sky. I wanted to mirror the birds and the way they took flight amongst the expansion of horizon. I wanted to be the sun, but I didn’t know I could obtain such an intimate connection between myself and the world. I believed everything I did determined if I was fit for such holiness, as if my weaknesses and mistakes made me undeserving. I walked with my head bowed to the ground, carrying the belief that I was unworthy of anything divine.
Coming from a very religious background, I went to church every Sunday and Bible study every Wednesday night. Going wasn’t a choice in our household. It was mandatory. Now, as college student, I don’t attend church as one would say “religiously.” Going or not going became my choice. My attendance didn’t decrease because my faith decreased, but I felt the need to create a relationship with my God on my own. I wanted to explore and gain an individual understanding, different from what I had been spoon-fed my entire life.
I used to feel guilty about not spending Sunday mornings sitting in a pew, as if my decision to not go were an act of rebellion that carried me away from God and the shelter of a divine love. I know for many who come from religious backgrounds like myself, we tend to grow up with the idea that we must attend some spiritual gathering regularly to be connected to our Divine, and in some cases, we’re shamed if we do the opposite. But the truth is, we are always connected to something holier than ourselves, whether we follow the norm of religion or not.
Spirituality is not limited. It is not confined to a certain structure. It’s whatever aligns you with the sun. That’s the truth I have been walking in, and the truth I have been trying to disperse throughout my work. You develop your own belief system, unique to you, based off your individual life experiences. I myself wanted to know how a black woman could prevail in the spiritual realm, despite the many opposing forces. I learned through watching my grandmother sing hymns. I learned through watching my sisters praise their way through any storm. I learned through watching the way my mother fell to her knees in prayer; how in the midst of her speaking verses to the universe, she aligned herself with something divine.
If my mother could carry the sun in her veins, then so could I.
The truth became unveiled. I began to realize what a powerful woman I was, and how I gained more strength through being in tune with myself. My religion became more of a ritual. I didn’t have to sit in church every Sunday morning to claim glory. I could find my praise in many other ways: affirmation, daily devotionals, meditation.
No matter how many times my knees scuff the ground, no matter how many mistakes I make, I realize that heaven still exists within me. Nothing can ever carry me away from such holiness unless I give it the power to do so. I’m learning to release the fear-based mechanisms I’ve been fed about religion. I’m learning to see the true image of the Divine, a powerful force that is full of love, forgiveness, grace and mercy. I’m finding peace in my walk and harmony in my steps these days.
For those of you who have felt like heaven isn’t something you can hold in the palms of your hands, then in this moment, wrap your arms around yourself. Squeeze tightly. Take a deep breathe in. Breathe out. Do you feel heaven now?
Mariah Hicks is a senior journalism major and creative writing minor at Kent State University. She is recently a self-published author of “To Wilt and Bloom: A Collection of Poetry and Prose on Growth,” which can be purchased through Amazon. Mariah enjoys using the power of language to inspire women around the world. You can find her on Instagram and check out her personal blog.