I was conceived outside of religion lock. My father, descendant of Russian and Romanian Jews; and my mother, the daughter of Catholics, met in 1968, the year that rocked the world. They had different religious backgrounds but shared the same dreams. In 1974, when I was born in a suburban hospital of Rio de Janeiro called “Italian Hospital”, they had no plans of choosing my religion. They decided to give me complete freedom to choose when I grew older, or to not choose at all. I have never experienced a smidge of pressure from them, and for this I am forever grateful.
When I was around 8 years old, I felt very impressed by how much importance people gave to two “male figures”: God and Jesus. I had heard so many things about God, including that it did not exist; and that Jesus had been the world’s biggest politician of all times, but no saint. I wanted to know more, and as I discovered that we could never actually see either God or Jesus “unless inside of us”, I heard that we could talk to them, and they would listen. And if we talked nicely, and if we were grateful for everything we had in life, and if we did what was good, they may send us what we needed or wanted.
Like a Prayer
One sunny afternoon I went to my upstairs neighbor (we lived in a compound with little townhouses populated by working single mothers and their adorable kids) and asked, right off the bat:
“Joana, can you teach me how to pray?”
She looked strangely at me, “you don’t know how to pray?” It sounded as if I didn’t know how to read or write. I nodded no, thinking that maybe it was too late to have God or Jesus listen to me. I was, for sure, in disadvantage.
Joana lent me her “bible for kids”, that she had gotten from her grandmother. And I studied it all, hiding from both my parents, because I felt a bit embarrassed of my growing faith towards one or the another religion.
I memorized “Holy Mary” and “Our Father” and gave Joana her book back. And I have been repeating those two prayers since then, in many moments: desperation, gratitude, hope, doubt, anxiety, sickness, heartbroken.
As I grew older, I began to expand my search for God. I started dating a guy (who, years later, become the father of my daughters) whose parents had a bible by their entrance, always turned on a different page. In his house, I could find Jesus on the walls. But he never believed in any of it and would go to church as an imposition from his parents. As soon as we moved in together, religion was banned from any surface of our apartment. To him, it was freedom. To me, it was a familiar absence. I had been going to synagogues, temples, even churches, by myself since I had turned 15 and spent some time in a kibbutz in Israel. When I needed to talk to God (just in case it existed), I would look for a sacred place, because I wasn’t sure I could find the Creator within myself.
Six years into the relationship, my boyfriend went missing on board of a helicopter flying over the Amazon Jungle. He was the host of a TV show doing a piece on the forest. I was in Rio de Janeiro when his helicopter crashed while trying to land on the Mount Roraima, and I felt a ping of pain at that exact time. A sixth sense thing, a sacred connection. That day, he did not call me, as he used to do every single day. And I knew something was definitely wrong. So, I prayed – I was in my 20s and had a broader repertory of litanies by then. Because he was a famous actor in a prime-time soap opera, countless prayers were sent his way the moment it was announced, in national television, that the helicopter he was in went missing. Two days later, when he was found alive with an internal bleeding, and rescued on live TV, was when I fully accepted God. Because him being alive was a miracle.
In my 40s, I started thinking of God a lot more as a Goddess, because I feel that whatever this energy is, it is very much aligned with the caring, nurturing and all the unconditional mother liveliness. I also call it Universe, in order to be more gender-free, and bigger than humanity – because to me God is the bond between humanity, nature and the unknown.
I don’t need a religion to express my faith. I need many.
Throughout my life, I went over many phases, trying to find this major energy here and there. First in Judaism, then I bounced back to African Religions (very popular in Brazil) such as Umbanda. For a moment, I became very Catholic, and learned about the saints and the eucharist. Then I studied the Kabbalah for seven years, and I still practice its precepts. I agree 100% with the first principle that says, “We are created for unending happiness”. I also joined Spiritism classes, based on Allan Kardec’s theories of after life, reincarnation and atonement. And I have been a big follower of Buddha for more than 20 years, also practicing meditation and yoga. Presently, I love to watch the gospels that my best friend Carla sends my way, and I went back to reading the bible. But the truth is: I don’t feel like I need a religion to express my faith. I need many of them. In different moments. The unshaken reality, and the most important thing, is that I am fully committed to my own faith in myself and in the Universe. Or vice-versa, whatever works best.