Positive About My Faith
A Lost and Found Journey of Spirituality
by John Francis Leonard

I’m not religious in the traditional sense. Organized religion and its prejudice and hypocrisy drove me from my faith for many years. I was raised Roman Catholic, but have serious doubts about many of its tenets. Up until just a few years ago, if someone said God bless you, it was a serious turn off for me.

When I was diagnosed, I found myself first exploring faith, and it took me in many directions. I explored Buddhism for a time and had a lama that I studied. I gave up after a time. I just didn’t have the patience required for meditation. My partner at the time explored Kabbalah and that held some interest for me. But something was always missing. I found great solace and satisfaction in the sermons of Marianne Williamson and thought that a new interpretation of Christianity might be something I needed. This initial journey of faith, prompted by my diagnosis, lasted a few years and then fell by the wayside.

For the past several years, as I’ve been writing this column, I’ve had a new spiritual awakening. Initially I resisted. When I think of the right-wing Christian extremists working so hard to deny me my civil rights, how could I not. I had a change of heart, however, how dare they deny me my faith? How dare they prostitute the true meaning of Christ’s teachings in order to do so? I may not be a practicing Catholic, but I was brought up to be a true Christian. Why would I be denied my faith?

What has happened recently is not so much my exploring my faith, but my faith coming to me. I was involved in a relationship with a man this past summer who was brought up in the Black church. He’d left the teachings of that organized religion that excluded others behind and was a private man of faith. Things didn’t work out between us; in fact they went pretty badly, but I grew more comfortable with my own spiritual identity through him. I’ve also had some wonderful and cherished friendships with people of faith. They have come into my life at just the right time. As an HIV-positive person support, spiritual or otherwise, is important.

One friend in particular comes to mind. She is a warm, hilarious, loving lady who you might not peg as the church-going type, but she is a Catholic of deep and sincere faith. We talk and laugh about anything and everything and she’s impossible to shock. I love her dearly and, in just a few short years, can’t imagine my life without her. I’m perfectly comfortable expressing my own faith with her and when she offers to pray on something for me, it’s truly a comfort.

One thing that life and faith have taught me is that everything is a lesson. We simply have to be open to it. My faith isn’t traditional. I’ve learned many things from many religions that I believe strongly. I believe that there are many paths to God, he’s (or she’s!) not picky about which you choose, the destination is ultimately the same. Every religion has a great teacher or teachers. They were simply people more in tune with God than others. Nonetheless, we should all be careful of those who claim to speak for God. Is their intention merely to exclude or judge? Is the real goodness in their hearts?

I know one thing, none of us has all the answers. I can only answer for my own journey and my own transgressions. What I do know is what my nascent faith has brought to my life. It’s made me a kinder person, both to myself and others. It has given me strength, things like my HIV status and my addiction issues aren’t so daunting. More than anything, it has changed a period of loneliness and isolation into one of friendship and fulfillment. Things are hardly perfect, by any stretch, but I feel much more able to tackle my problems and make needed adjustments to my life. Life is a journey, and my faith has given me a simpler path to follow. There’s a quote from A Course in Miracles that has always stayed with me these many years, “A miracle is simply a change in perception.”

John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.