Drops of red wine were still on my 8-year-old tongue when I returned to my family's pew. Facing the altar to genuflect, I felt it. Him.
Every week during my childhood, I felt God's love most during Holy Communion. The love God has for everyone—equal and the exact same—because we're all His children. And just as my parents wanted me and my younger brothers to treat each other kindly, God expects this of everyone on Earth. Strangers or not, we're one huge family.
I remember making the sign of the cross, ready to pray the same earnest prayer: Thank you, God, for my family. Please be with the kids who don't have homes where they're safe and loved. Thank you, God, that I'm healthy. Please be with the kids who are sick. Thank you, God, that I always have food when I'm hungry. Please be with the kids who don't always get to eat.
Growing up, I attended my family's church on York Road, in a neighborhood called Govans. Instead of trees, the street was lined with trash. Tired-looking people waited at bus stops, walked by stores whose doors I never saw open.
Please, God, be with anyone here whose life is hard. Please let them be happy.
Eventually, my childhood prayers evolved into adolescent actions. With my youth group, I volunteered at vacation Bible school, soup kitchens. Then, as now, serving made me feel as close to God as praying. I understood this to mean I'm doing what God wants.
By young adulthood, my perception of God shifted from Heavenly Father to something closer, more immediate—though, to me, just as holy: connection. My concept of God, no longer of a superior divine being, became god. Miraculously everyday. When I tutored, helped write résumés, organized food drives, I felt and found god. Each time, my heart widened a little more.
As I got older, I met people who were unhoused and living with HIV. Returning citizens. Abandoned teenagers. People for whom Baltimore is brutal, bloody. I studied theology, not to learn about religion, but ethics. Our obligation to one another.
Please, god, let the people in Baltimore have homes where they're safe and loved. Let them be healthy. Let them always have food to eat.
Please, god, tell me how to serve my city. Let me learn. Let me always love.
As an adult, I found my way to the classroom, teaching high school English to Baltimore City students I adore so much that I call them my lovelies. I don't know if it's because I heard god, or god heard me. I just know it to be right.