A faith to call her own: writer Bunmi Laditan's search for connection with God
In her quest to claim a faith, the author recalls calling out to God, ‘Where are you?’
Bunmi Laditan is a writer and humourist, known online as The Honest Toddler. She has explored many faiths in her life-long search for connection with God. But while her religion may have changed throughout her life, she has always maintained a belief in the power of prayer.
Laditan is a first-generation American who grew up in California. Her family is from Nigeria and practices the Yoruba Christian faith.
As an adult, Laditan converted to Judaism and embraced the culture. She married a Jewish man, and together they raised their children in the faith. But when Laditan and her husband divorced, she began to have mixed feelings about her own spiritual practices, and yearned for a faith that would be separate from her parents and her ex-husband.
"It [would] be something that's mine, something that can't be taken away from me. If things fall apart, it'll live with me. It will be mine," she said.
Her latest book is Help me, God, I'm a Parent: Honest Prayers for Hectic Days and Endless Nights.
Bunmi Laditan spoke with Tapestry's Rosie Fernandez. Here is some of their conversation.
Tell me a little about the faith of your parents.
Praying is a big part of Yoruba life, Nigerian life. And they [my parents] would start praying loudly every day at around 5 a.m. And the prayers of Nigerian people are very from the heart, very honest. If they're going through something, it's going to sound like deep lamentations – like wailing to God, you know. For me, it was very normal. But for people spending the night, it was absolutely terrifying. So I didn't have a ton of sleepovers.
How does music influence your prayer life?
Music does influence my spiritual life sometimes, especially playing my flute. Sometimes there are things that I can only express – even prayers that feel like they don't have words. They only have notes and melodies. I think it's one of my favourite ways to pray.
Listen to Bunmi Laditan reading a prayer from her book Help Me God, I'm a Parent: Honest Prayers for Hectic Days and Endless Nights. Laditan also plays the flute music in this clip.
How did your understanding of God change, if at all?
My understanding of God when I converted to Judaism really opened up, because I had a framework that just made more sense to me. I had these traditions and these prayers and a rhythm that worked – a rhythm to regular life. The Jewish calendar has a rhythm even for the week, with Shabbat being the Saturday, the day of rest. And then you have all of the holy days and and the minor holy days and then the seasons. So it's a culture, a religion, a people that is very weaved into daily life, into the seasons. And I still find so much richness in the Jewish faith.
When you got divorced, was there a discussion about your faith?
I was still committed to raising Jewish children. I still took comfort in [Judaism], but it was different now. Once I was doing it by myself without the framework of this marriage and this family, it took on an edge, almost like if a song goes from a major key to a minor key. And it sounds different in your ears. So it became easier for me to just turn it off when I didn't have to.
I've always felt so loved in synagogues – so loved, so embraced, like I'd never experience in any other place. But then it's like I had this secret; that I believed in Jesus.- Bunmi Laditan
I wandered through the New Age movement, which was very affirming. You know, you are your own god in a sense – or you're in charge, or there's a universe, but not really a God. After going through so many hard things, it felt easier for me to believe that there was an impersonal universe that was waiting for me to manifest my desires. Because if God were real, wouldn't He have helped me more?
I wanted control, basically. So many things had been out of control. I wanted control for myself.
Tell me a little bit about what happened at that time with you, in terms of your faith.
I began to ask really specific and difficult questions of God. One of my first questions was about Jesus. In my upbringing, Jesus was the Son of God, and God. He was definitely Jewish, but went off and basically started a cult that became one of the top religions. In Islam, he's talked about as a prophet, but not God. And there are many people who believe that Jesus was just a really nice guy, like a hippie who led people and fed crowds and gave out health care. He was healing left and right. So I was very confused. And I remember I asked God specifically, 'Who is Jesus to you?' I reached a point where I didn't care about control. I didn't care about what I wanted. I only wanted the truth from God.
So I prayed that prayer, who is Jesus? And then I had this experience … I was standing on my patio and I was looking out over the grass. And it was just a beautiful, sunny, sunny, clear day. And I felt a presence behind me, and the presence was so powerful. There was also so much love – the same love that I felt in God. But it's different. I recognized the gentleness that I'd always been looking for. It was Jesus. I just knew that Jesus was divine. I just knew – in that moment it was like this truth just descended on me. Okay, He is who he says He is.
That was really shocking for me, because I never thought I would have anything to do with any form of Christianity again. Even after going away, I still love Judaism. This is the faith of my children. It's the faith that embraced me. I've always felt so loved in synagogues – so loved, so embraced, like I'd never experience in any other place. But then it's like I had this secret; that I believed in Jesus.
Written and produced by Rosie Fernandez.This interview was edited for length and clarity.