Maria Matienzo Puerto

Entrance to Zanja St. in Havana.  Photo: Caridad
Entrance to Zanja Street in Havana. Photo: Caridad

I’ve never heard the calling of God.  It’s not that I don’t have halfway mystical experiences to relate; in fact I have tons of them. But these have never inspired me to seek out the church and completely surrender myself to prayers and devotions.

It could be that I had a number of explanations/excuses, and was in a crowd of people who discouraged me with, “You’re crazy. Do you know what it is to become a Christian? You don’t have a clue.”

Words like those can be the last straw for many people – though the first for others.

As I see it, joining a church means them questioning me about everything from my sexuality to anything having to do with my race and the customs handed down-despite prohibitions against this-  from my black grandparents. To me this is synonymous with prejudice and discrimination.

Sure, I know I might have a media-blemished image of the church, but I’m just not able to reconcile what I see with what they preach.  It would be hard for me to keep secret some of the things that identify me.

As for the explanations/excuses, those are from my upbringing: the betrayals and fear of accusations of felt by more than one generation of Cubans who considered it best not to have a Christmas tree, a Santa Claus or a manger.  Those who did have these had to keep them well in the back part of their homes, since these were judged to be too “bourgeois” in a socialist society.

And my being revolutionary meant that I was never baptized nor received my first communion. I was even married before a notary.

Rather than the church, people preferred to turn to Yoruba orishas (spirits), which in the long run were thought capable of doing more.  I don’t know if they used philosophy or magic, or wisdom or that word I don’t like to repeat – “brujería” (witchcraft).

Virtually all of us have gone to that church from time to time.  It’s not that it’s been prohibited; it’s that one of the advantages of its marginality is that to the eyes of censor, sometimes you’re invisible there.

I confess that I don’t feel like a sheep that has gone astray.  And although it’s bad that it’s me who’s saying this, I believe that I’ve taken to heart the essence of being a good Christian in the most metaphoric sense: loving my neighbor and being a good person.


Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

One thought on “To Believe or Not to Believe

  • In the end, we should “do the right thing” because–err–it is right! The “external” rewards proffered by religion (e.g. eternal life) are like the external “bribes” offered to children in order for them to behave in the way adults want them to behave. That said, I find the Orishas (and the ancient Greek gods/goddesses) more attractive than the austere desert god of the Christians and Islamists, probably because they are more human and humane, just like ourselves, whereas the monothestic god is closer to Aristotle’s “Prime Mover,” a chilly and distant god unconcerned with our own petty sufferings. Finally, I would add, that “doing the right thing” is not as easy as it seems. What is “the right thing?” We often blunder into doing wrong when we think we are doing right. The search is often a life-long process.

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