I can’t remember a time when I didn’t find myself at an intersection. Largely mirroring a liminal space, my life has always reflected that of a hybrid. Living in the borderlands, rifting off Gloria Anzaldúa’s mestiza concept, I think of myself as a boundary breaking being. Never fitting comfortably into any box that I attempted to limit myself to, there has always been an inability to grow comfortable. Perhaps, it’s like the baby eaglet feels when its mother stirs her nest.
The “S” in which I am referring stands for scholar. Yes, scholar. While I once thought of my school work as isolated from my personal life, I was wrong. In fact, my personal life has largely informed my academic pursuits. In essence, the two are not separate from one another, and can be used interchangeably in a lot of ways.
For instance, in order to study and understand black women’s spirituality and practices, I had to conduct research. While that is expected of one in my field, the research in which I am referring is within myself. I could not approach texts with a closed mind, acting as a voyeur in someone else’s life. I mean, I could but that would do the text injustice. Largely, in literature, we read through the lens of our experiences. Whether we realize it or not, we superimpose our lifestyles and rearing onto the characters in the text. My practice is no different.
When I read a novel or autobiography, I am prompted to search within myself to establish some form of common ground. Several texts prompt me to examine why I am the way I am. They ask me to question my beliefs and lack of decisions in most cases. The books also pose as a mirror to show a reflection that asks “where are you?”
My walk with Christ largely informs the way that I interact with books. Yes, I used the word “interact” in talking about books because the narratives are timeless. In fact, when I read close enough the characters come to life, and I find myself entangled in someone else’s life. I give the characters advise, laugh at their jokes, and feel anxious if I think something bad may happen to my favorite character. However, this is not the only reason why I love literature.
My interest and investment in my personal growth leads me to certain texts, especially the ones where women grow spiritually. I think to be stagnate in life is to first be stagnate in the spirit. If change comes from the inside out, then the physical is only manifesting what is internally present. Interestingly, I did not learn that from a literary novel, but from the bible.
While I understand the intellectual’s reservations about Christianity and its problems historically, through personal time with Christ, I’ve learned how to separate man’s actions from Christ’s. You know how they teach students to close read in school: the practice of reading things into a text that might not otherwise be there? It is called having revelation from a theological perspective. Therefore, I approach the bible as well as literary texts seeking revelation. I do not wish to simply see what others see, nor do I wish to regurgitate what they have already spoken. I do, however, seek to be original in my interpretation of both areas of my life.
If African American literature teaches us that the same time the sacred was arising, so was the secular, then why can’t we think of our academic pursuits and our spiritual walk in the same manner, especially when they inform one another? My answer is that for so long we’ve been taught to choose because no one has been able to be vocal successfully about two areas of concentration and be great. We’ve been taught to stuff our big minds and big God into an either/or category only to be left frustrated because the box we’ve stepped into is too small.
You don’t have to choose! You don’t have to conform to the mediocrity of other people’s intellect. You don’t have to bend to occupy a space that is too low for your destiny. You can be both/and. You can defy the expectation of people in your position and set a new standard.
With that being said, I am a scholar in every sense of the word. I am an avid researcher, teacher, reader, and writer. But, more importantly, I am a student of the Word.
That is the “S” on my chest.