If you’d rather not see sexually explicit writing, choose the “Non-Explicit Epistles” category. Please heed the content notices at the tops of posts, and use the tags to find the topics you’re looking for. 🙂
This is the manuscript of a sermon I preached a little while back for a class focused on the relationship between preaching and the human body.
“Loving the Body in Ephesians 5”
Today’s scripture is Ephesians 5:28-30 (NRSV).
“In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body”
Ephesians 5 is known as ‘the household code,’ setting out guidelines for some of the relationships found in ancient Christian communities. It contains now controversial statements such as “Wives, be subject to your husbands” and “slaves obey your masters” alongside “Husbands, love your wives.” I personally struggle with this text. When I read Ephesians 5, it often doesn’t feel like good news. Because I have seen the harm done by this text. I have seen the physical and emotional abuse of women that has been perpetrated under Ephesians 5, the way that control and power are twisted around love. The text also carries a bitter legacy of enslavement–my own ancestors most likely pointed to this text to justify enslaving Black people for generations. It’s okay to see this legacy and to object to the harmful use of this text in our history and experience. But when we look at this text with open eyes, we can see hopeful things that we may not have seen before.
We know that Ephesians 5:21 is a call to mutuality–Paul writes, “Be subject to one another as to the Lord.” With these words, Paul signals something deeper in this text, something to challenge all of us, maybe even something that could be good news–a sense that we must honor and care for each other. That is the spirit in which I re-read the text. I invite us to look at a specific verse in this passage that, up until a few weeks ago, I had never even noticed. That verse is Ephesians 5:29-30: “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.” So let’s do a new thing with this text.
When I first read “For no one ever hates his own body,” I thought “Yeah, right!” Because I can’t help but think of people who avoid being in pictures. I think of people, myself included, skipping meals and pulling all-nighters to get more work done. I think of extreme diets. I think of the resentment I feel of my own body when it manifests anxiety through migraines and nausea, how I sometimes try to push through and work harder even when I know that my body needs to rest.
Considering my own experience and the success of multi-billion-dollar industries focused on weight loss and looking better, even in the midst of a global pandemic where our survival is at stake, I couldn’t believe Paul’s words; they just seemed so far from reality. But then I read the passage again: “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church.” And I started to see something revolutionary in what Paul was saying.
What if we treated Paul’s words as aspirational? The truth is, in our current context, the evidence of body hatred abounds, and it’s only gotten worse since the pandemic began. It’s hard for many people to nourish and tenderly care for themselves, especially since we live in a society that does not consistently nourish or care for bodies, even in the most basic of ways–nutrition, healthcare, shelter, safety, autonomy…the list goes on. We fail to love or protect so many kinds of bodies. We discount and ignore the needs and value of poor bodies, sick bodies, ageing bodies, disabled bodies, treating them as disposable. We abuse black and brown bodies, women’s bodies, bodies we perceive as ‘female’. We reject fat bodies, queer and transgender bodies, bodies that don’t look or behave in ways that we find lovable…again, the list goes on. We starve, intimidate, and coerce bodies all the time.
Bodies loved by Christ are unloved by people, abused, and treated as disposable, pushed to work harder and look better, no matter the cost. Even our language around ‘self-care’ and ‘wellness’ often reflects a need to project an outward image of wholeness and well-being that isn’t the reality for many people. It’s not nourishment. It’s not tender care for self or others.
Thus, instead of seeing reality reflected, I hear a revolutionary call in the community of mutual subjection that Paul imagines: We are called to nourish and tenderly care for our own bodies and the bodies of others. This statement is not an admonishment toward ‘self-care’, though that’s part of it–I think we all know what it’s like to feel uncaring toward our own bodies, to choose not to nourish ourselves, and it causes suffering. We deserve care from ourselves.
But we’re not just individuals; we live in community. We need mutual support, especially in times of crisis. Something that writer and community organizer Nakita Valerio wrote last year on this topic has come back to me many times over the past few months as we’ve dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. Valerio wrote that “Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need community care is how we fail people.” Care is a communal matter, a truth that feels clear and urgent in a time when we are asked to help slow the spread of a disease that is mild for some but disabling and even deadly for others.
Paul’s letter shows that we cannot care for our bodies as individuals without caring for and nourishing the others to whom we are bound by God–Paul says “husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies.” Where bodies are unloved, we are called to love. This means that when bodies are threatened, we nourish those bodies, we fight for those bodies, and we love them fiercely. Sometimes, that’s our own bodies. We may not always feel connected to the sense of love that Paul describes, but we can intentionally nourish and tenderly care for ourselves and each other. Because we are all members of the body of Christ: holy, precious, and beloved.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. “Emancipative Elements in Ephesians 5:21-33: Why Feminist Scholarship has (Often) Left Them Unmentioned, and Why They Should Be Emphasized.”
Feminist Companion to Paul. Amy-Jill Levine, Ed.Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.
Johnson, E. Elizabeth. “Ephesians.” Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition. Carol A. Newsom, Ed. Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
Note: I’ve been pondering what I want and need in romantic relationships lately. Due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s not currently safe to meet new partners. Thus, I’ve been returning to my researcher roots, reading literature about different relationship structures, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. I’m realizing that there is much I don’t know about my romantic self (Ex: I feel fairly romantically “monogamish,” but I’m not entirely how that may apply to future romantic relationships. In fact, my longest relationships so far have been non-monogamous and intimate but not specifically romantic). Thus, I’ve decided to write some brief fantasies that show situations (kinky, romantic, and loving) that I could picture myself possibly enjoying and finding fulfilling in the future. This is one such intimate imagining. [Content notes: erotic but not explicit; power exchange themes, queerness, domesticity, cuddling, communication, boot worship, and implied open relationship]
My partner and I lean into each other as we sit by the fire, watching a nature documentary and enjoying the light smell of spruce in the air. My left arm is around her shoulder. She’s caught my left hand in hers. It is happily captive. My right hand idly strokes the hair of the submissive sitting at our feet. He leans back heavily against our legs like a dog seeking pats. He only visits a couple of times a month, but when he’s here, he belongs to us. As he becomes one with the floor, his hands wander to brush against my combat boots. He pulls them away quickly but then looks up at me with a question.
Feeling my partner squeeze my hand affirmatively, I nod. Silent, my submissive shifts to his knees on the carpet and lowers his face to our feet. My partner pets him as I press between his shoulder blades with my other boot. I get a little lightheaded at the simultaneous sensation of my sub’s lips soft against my leather and my partner nestling against my side, brimming with affection as she drinks in my relaxation and unfurling wisps of arousal. The documentary plays on, the fire crackles, and my eyelids flutter closed. I feel warm, balanced, and at peace.
Greetings! I’ve been pretty quiet these past few months, but I’m finally done with classes for the semester and have much to say. Over the next few days, I’ll be updating this site and publishing some of the posts in my backlog. I may even share some bits of my MDiv thesis on pleasure. Blessed Advent, and be of good courage!
I haven’t had much inspiration to write lately–in light of current events, I often feel frozen in place with worry about what will happen, which makes it hard for me to put much on the page. Still, I’ve learned that a bit of levity can help me out of that frozen space. It is in that spirit that I share this drawing, which began life as a pair of bug bites on my leg. #SouthernLiving #FreeTheNipple #BeOf[Helpful Or Comfortable]Courage
I’ve been practicing mindfulness daily for the past three months, largely thanks to accountability provided by my domme. Sometimes, it’s a chore–my mind just whirs and buzzes while I sit there, and I finish the practice feeling frustrated by my lack of focus. Often, it’s a time for me to recognize and tend to my feelings, to remind myself that they’re okay. That’s uncomfortable but valuable, especially now, in the midst of a pandemic that has no clear end. Occasionally, my practice leads to unexpected catharsis and insight. Tuesday’s session was one of those times. It involved a heartfelt conversation with a pillow. That will make sense later.
You see, I’ve been coping with the stirring of dormant anxieties recently, now that my dominant and I are doing a bit of sexual exploration (remotely). As a queer woman with chronic pelvic pain and perfectionism issues, sex can be a source of anxiety and overanalysis for me. (I’m not alone in that, and I’ll elaborate on it in a future post.) One thing I’m realizing, especially as I grudgingly share my anxieties with my partners, is that I have an old fear that confiding in my partners will ‘infect’ them with my anxiety. In other words, I fear that hearing my worries will make them worry, and then my worries will overwhelm them and become real as they pull away. And then, if they can’t handle my anxiety, it’s my fault for sharing or for not framing it in the [helpful] way possible. Frankly, that’s a lot of pressure.
I think I know when these beliefs solidified in my psyche. I experienced a lot of anxiety in my first romantic relationship over six years ago, particularly wondering what I was ‘supposed’ to be feeling and not wanting to hurt my partner. As I explained to my therapist this week, I told her about what I was experiencing, and two weeks later, she broke up with me, citing similar anxieties to the ones that I had brought to her (which, incidentally, she had not disclosed until that point). Now, there’s no way of knowing how much I actually influenced her behavior. As my therapist pointed out, I’m not superhuman. I was only twenty, and she wasn’t much older. I’ve learned so much since I was twenty (I can verify that by rereading my old journal entries from that time–such overwrought prose!). But I think that part of me has carried the assumption for years that I somehow turned the breakup that I feared into reality by confiding my worries, that it’ll happen again.
At times, I’ve assumed that my anxiety isn’t something that my partners can hold without taking it on. I’m learning that that’s an assumption based on incomplete (and frankly, outdated) information. I’ve grown in my ability to notice, understand, and communicate my feelings, and if my partners start to feel like they’re drowning in what I’m saying, they can tell me. I know this.
But I still need to attend to the younger self who feels ashamed. This week, I did that through mindfulness. In the middle of a practice that invited me to openness, I found myself inspired to talk to and hold my twenty-year-old self, the one who blames herself for so much. So I laid a bed pillow across my lap and imagined that it was a younger version of me. I cradled her like the Virgin Mary cradles Jesus in Michelangelo’s Pietà. Mentally, I felt around for the most tender and wounded places, speaking aloud the affirmations that would be hard for her to hear (and hard for me to believe).
I told her that she did the best she could. I told her that she was brave and kind. I told her that I had learned so much from her, that I admired her. The tears started when I said “I’m proud of you.” I held her, marveling at how young and small she seemed in my arms. “You are part of me, and I will always hold you,” I said to her. I whispered these things over and over, letting myself weep for that heartbroken twenty-year-old who just wanted to do the right thing. ‘We’ stayed like that for a while. I wasn’t sure how to wrap it up, but when my stomach started growling, I decided to rise and let her rest in my psyche. The pillow became just a pillow again, and I went about my day.
I don’t know how this cathartic time will affect the way that I approach my behavior now, but it was much needed. As I move forward, other ‘past selves’ will visit–I’m sure my inner five-year-old will tug at my sleeve one of these days. I will learn from them, affirm them, and hold them.
*Note: Insight Timer is the [helpful] free meditation app.
Coronavirus sucks. Social distancing sucks. I’m lucky to have a home with a yard, a stable internet connection, and an immune system that generally works well…and it still sucks. I hate not being able to visit my partners and family for an indefinite period of time–we assessed the transmission risks and decided that we can’t risk exposure while the coronavirus spreads so stealthily across the country. While we wait for more information, we have to protect ourselves and others who are more vulnerable, including those who can’t socially distance because they’re on the front lines. We’re struggling to compensate for a sluggish federal response and a broken healthcare system, doing the [helpful] we can–and we don’t know how long we’ll have to do it or what the eventual outcomes will be. That’s hard.
The fear and uncertainty wear me down like a constant buzz of radio static. I can calculate some risks, but others are outside my control, and this situation is constantly evolving. That said, being voluntarily cooped up has reminded me that some risks can be chosen and that boundaries can evolve as we grow and change. What seemed too risky yesterday might feel perfectly reasonable with a more up-to-date risk assessment (and vice-versa). I’ve decided to use this time to re-evaluate my ‘risk profile’. By that I mean that I’m taking a second look at the things that I mentally packed away long ago as “not worth the risk,” dusting them off like provocative outfits, and trying them on for size.
Logically, under the circumstances, this choice has manifested the most in my virtual life so far. My brain has been searching feverishly for technological solutions to a sudden dearth of physical contact, which now includes an ongoing list of screen-sharing apps that I have yet to try. But this revelation came to me fairly quickly: when my partners can’t physically touch me, the next [helpful] thing is to show them more of my skin.
Know this, gentle readers: before the COVID-19 crisis, I had never sent a nude image of myself to anyone. Over the past couple of weeks, I decided to investigate why. I’d sent teasing images, certainly–strategic pictures of my legs were a favorite (in my mind, ‘almost nudity’ was just fine) and posted them on FetLife. I had no problem receiving nude images, and in fact, I revel in the knowledge that my sub sends me nude pictures whenever I ask. But I never felt comfortable reciprocating.
That might seem quite strange, and it is. I have no personal history of trauma with nudity or image exposure. I don’t recoil from the nude images of others. I trust my partners not to share anything without my permission. The most succinct explanation I have for the longstanding “no nudies” boundary is inertia–I came up with that boundary at a time when I was just starting to explore my sexuality, chatting casually with people I wasn’t sure I trusted, and it stuck.
Before that time of exploration, it barely occurred to me that sending a nude was an option–nearly all the information swimming around in my head about nude pictures warned of “revenge porn” and other possible dangers that ranged from embarrassing to traumatizing. I had definitely also internalized some black-and-white thinking from middle school guidance class: “Sexting – Don’t do it!”
Early in my kinky exploration, having a universal “no nudes” policy was an easy way for me to avoid having to think about that baggage or to ask whether what I had been taught still made sense for me. I trusted myself, but I wasn’t sure I trusted others. I encountered a few pushy types. Saying that I just didn’t send nudes from the start of a correspondence allowed me to separate the wheat from the chaff–it was a litmus test that showed who would respect my boundaries. But I’ve learned that some of the arbitrary boundaries that once kept me safe aren’t suitable anymore. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can’t grow if I rely on others to choose them for me; I have to investigate the risks and choose boundaries for myself.
As I thought and felt all of this through, I realized that I had no compelling reasons not to send nudes and no visceral feelings of distress at the idea–I felt nervous about trying something new but felt more excited about the prospect of sharing something meaningful with my partners than anything else.
I asked myself a lot of questions, like “What might I do if my pictures get leaked? What if the ones who look at the pictures don’t think they’re attractive? Which ‘risks’ are important to me, and can they be managed? Under what circumstances would I feel comfortable taking on these risks? Do I feel enthusiastic about changing this boundary?” (I think I’ll write another post about nude photo risk-assessment some time.) I decided that I didn’t need a “no nudes” boundary to feel respected and that I would send nudes consensually as a way to connect with my partners and my own sexuality during this time of distance.
Long story short, I sent and posted my first nude photos a few days ago, a couple peekaboo shots of my chest, and it felt great. I felt cute, brave, vulnerable, attractive, handsome (yes, handsome), and powerful. I assessed the risks, I found boundaries that feel good to me, and I tried something new, understanding that I can change my boundaries again in the future if I need to. When my choices feel so overwhelming and yet so limited, finding opportunities for chosen bravery that brings me closer to others feels very healing. In those opportunities, at least, I find ways to be more hopeful than anxious.
*Note: For the time-being, I won’t be posting any nudes on this blog. That’s not what this space is ‘for’. If you want to connect on FetLife, where some of the fabled nudes will reside, do send me an email.
My, it’s been a while! I’ve been trying to find time and energy to write for weeks, and now, I have it, courtesy of coronavirus lockdown. I want to take this opportunity to post all the ideas that have been noodling around in my brain without worrying about polish. Without further ado, I’ll dive into the main body of this post.
I’ve heard it said that God can be imagined as the ultimate dominant–valid, I see it. I haven’t seen anyone propose the idea that God is the ultimate submissive, however. Considering that a healthy power exchange dynamic requires at least two people on basically equal footing to function, I find that discrepancy interesting (and frankly, troubling).
So I’d like to try a little thought experiment and ask whether God is the ultimate submissive–or even whether God has submissive qualities. What might I/we learn about God (and about kink) from this angle?
These are my current thoughts (my beliefs about who God is and what God is like vary from day to day, so for the purposes of this post, I’ll say that God is all-powerful and chooses to be vulnerable in order to be in relationship with us even though I don’t necessarily believe that all of the time).
What might make God the ultimate submissive? Let’s start at the beginning. God creates the marvelous world and gives humans the freedom to do what we want. God sets basic limits and boundaries, as a submissive would*, and we humans take control, making plenty of mistakes along the way. God has the theoretical ability to end this exchange at any time, but God doesn’t.
God lets us try and fail, trusting us day after day with what we have been given–the power to care for, learn from, and reshape creation, the most precious and vulnerable aspect of God’s self. We’re not perfect, and God doesn’t expect us to be. We can hurt God and each other when we don’t use our power wisely. God is strong and resilient enough to live without us–God could survive our self-destruction. But God chooses to live with us, to see what we’ll do next and work with us as we learn.
As ‘dominants’, how could we not do whatever we can to show how much we appreciate this extraordinary trust? If we imagine God in this way, how might we approach faith differently? How might we approach kink differently?
Those are my thoughts for now. I’m interested in what this conception of God sparks for others!
(*I know, dominants get to have limits and boundaries too!)
In the past few days, I’ve had this odd hankering to reflect on the past year in writing. I don’t yet know how my finals will turn out, and perhaps I should be working on them. But I love to procrastinate work with other work. So, here are a few things I’ve learned since I got involved as a switch in the kink community about a year-and-a-half ago:
I’ve learned that munches are pretty great, especially if you can tell people apart.
I’ve learned how to spank, flog, strap, paddle, cane, finger-fuck, peg, and edge. I’m learning how to communicate, ask good questions, listen, maintain boundaries, process difficult feelings, and not use dominance or submission as a security blanket. I haven’t yet learned how to get anything satisfying out of the riding crop.
I’ve learned to face fears and take care of myself (I even went to the gynecologist and got treatment for chronic pain). I also started this blog, and I’m proud of myself for not giving up on it–it feels good to recognize that I’m building resilience.
I’ve learned that playing with lazy, unmotivated play partners is not part of ‘paying my dues‘. I used to think that I had to deal with a few blah play partners in order to ‘hone my craft,’ a bit like an apprentice doing grunt work. In real life, that translated into bending over backwards to educate and accommodate flaky, lazy men who hadn’t taken the time to educate themselves. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten more experience, this type of man has largely disappeared from my DMs.
Through my D/s dynamics, play experiences, and conversations with friends in the local community over the past several months, I’ve learned that a lot of kink isn’t sexual. Thus, I now tend to describe BDSM simply as “One of the ways grownups play.” For example, my dynamic with my Dominant isn’t really sexual so far, and my submission to her isn’t sexually motivated. Our play and D/s interaction centers around sensuality, service, and mutual growth. If you’d told me this last year, I would have been shocked. It just goes to show that even when discussing ‘alternative lifestyles,’ we often don’t recognize the kaleidoscope of healthy, loving ways for human beings to interact.
On the other hand, some of my kinky play is quite sexual! In my dynamic with my submissive, a major element of my holistic dominance is my ownership of his sexual life (long-term, encompassing control that I wouldn’t have expected to want at the start of my kink journey). I’ve learned that (consensually) stepping into someone’s personal space in a dominant frame of mind can be a strong sexual trigger. Perhaps it sends a signal to my body, paradoxically, that I can ‘let go’ and be sexual (Emily Nagoski’s “gas pedal and brakes” framework makes sense to me here).
I’ve discovered that I have an inner sadist (which I’ll talk about more at another time). I like to watch people grow, to assign homework, to ask probing questions that confront assumptions. To an extent, it’s satisfying to watch people struggle, knowing that they will come out of the difficult experience wiser, kinder, and more resilient. A while back, my Dominant shared some concerns she had about being in a process of growth. I said, “This may sound strange, but as your submissive, I’m still sadistic. I derive joy from your discomfort.” She wasn’t offended–that tells me that I’ve chosen a good Domme. Do I have an inner masochist? I think so. Stay tuned.
I’ve learned that I’m not immune to pettiness, jealousy, and consent accidents. And while we’re at it, I’m not immune to ye olde frenzy. I’ve made many mistakes and will make more (see Fetish Foibles for a couple of examples from my dominant life).
I’ve had a complicated journey with submission. There’s a reason I’ve been calling it #Subpocalypse2019. Being confronted with a serious opportunity to submit frightened me, even made me feel ashamed. Frankly, it embarrasses me to think of the monsters that came out of my mental closet. I’ve learned a lot about my fears and insecurities.
I’ve been learning how to manage multiple dynamics, friendships, etc. that require care and attention. I honestly believe that I’ve become more of a stickler for planning and scheduling because of my kink exploration. Planning is one way to show care for people, even if that just means planning a little extra sleep into your schedule so you can be fully alert during negotiation and play. While we’re at it, I’ve learned that gratitude is more precious than gold.
In making the leap from kinky fantasy into kinky reality, I’ve learned to fantasize more responsibly. That is, I think more deeply about my fantasies and how they relate to my needs. Fantasy has been a lifelong coping mechanism for me; I’ve always been imaginative, and as a child, that’s how I spun straw into gold. I used to eroticize the feeling of being left-out and marginalized in social groups, in situations where my tender young mind saw no alternative. It went something like this: “Oh, I’ve been left out. I shall now be Cinderella.” And I would revel in the degradation of my imagined servitude. Nowadays, I try to think through my options before spinning a fantasy. For example, if I’m feeling bad, I might think, “Is this a situation that I can work through in the ‘real world’? Am I using this fantasy to make my shame feel sweeter instead of confronting it?” That doesn’t mean I restrict my imagination (or, for that matter, that fantasies are ‘good’ or ‘bad’) but that I try not to use fantasy to avoid the hard work of reflecting, communicating my needs, and following through in reality.
Maybe you’re wondering whether I, a queer, kinky Christian divinity student, have any reflections on faith here. First, my journey has taught me that Dominants are not deities, though we can certainly play with those roles and language. We don’t ever ‘deserve’ anybody’s submission (we don’t even deserve the capital ‘D’ at the beginning of ‘Dominant’). Now, what about God, whom some people choose to conceptualize as the ultimate Dominant? I don’t know what to make of God, to be quite honest. God is a mystery, and I’m leaving it at that for now. I haven’t truly ‘worshipped’ in a traditional sense in quite a while, but I think God can understand that.
I’m pretty sure my Christology (my sense of the divinity of Jesus) has come down a few notches–I used to really like the idea that God, through Jesus, could understand the spectrum of human suffering, but I’m not so sure anymore. Overall, I feel as stubbornly rooted in my Christianity as ever, but, to quote transgender pastor Allyson Dylan Robinson, I’ve “sacrificed my certainty” many times.
I’m just beginning to explore the connection between kink and spirituality (read a bit about my frustration with traditional ‘spiritual practices’ here). But I’m finding kinky activity to be intensely connective and intimate, a time when I can be completely focused on my partners. Regardless of my role, kink requires me to be vulnerable, showing up as myself. I learned how to show up with vulnerability in part through my Christian faith and nurturing community. Yet, I find that I usually can’t show up that way when I try to pray–I have too many complicated thoughts and feelings, confusion and anger, sometimes blankness where I would once have imagined God to be. It’s hard to talk to a mystery. People are slightly easier. So perhaps kink is a way that I can commune with the Divinity in myself and others. I hope to explore this idea further.
I honestly have more to say, but I think that’s enough for now. I am grateful for the people, the discoveries, and the opportunities to learn that I’ve had so far in the kink community. I look forward to learning more as I continue my journey.
Let me walk the labyrinth on my knees and blindfolded.
I walked a labyrinth for the first time in years a few days ago. In modern usage, a labyrinth is a spiritual tool, a bit like a maze with no dead ends. It takes you down a winding path to the center and then back out. Just when you think you’ve made it, the labyrinth sends you far away from your destination. People will often enter a labyrinth with a question in mind and let that labyrinth carry them through as they contemplate it. That all sounds lovely and poetic in theory, but I’ve never really ‘gotten’ labyrinths. Like many spiritual practices, labyrinths frustrate me, and not in a way that feels spiritual.
I’m a bit like Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who once said, “I get what can only be described as road rage when I’m stuck behind someone walking slowly in a prayer labyrinth.” I walk, and I try to feel something ‘spiritual,’ and then I get frustrated with myself for putting that kind of pressure on what is essentially a stroll. I crunched through the leaf litter of this outdoor labyrinth recently, struggling to let go long enough to feel the leaves–as it was, I experienced them intellectually, outside myself, as noisemakers that could interrupt other walkers. I wasn’t always like this.
I danced through my first labyrinth, which was just a marked mat spread out in the church fellowship hall. I was a child skipping gleefully past all the adults, who took slow, careful steps, as if they were walking a tightrope. They stood for long minutes in the center like sleeping birds while I ran rings around them, giddy with the twists and turns. Now, I’m an adult, so caught up in doing it right, in making enough space for the other walkers, and trying to be remotely ‘spiritual’ on top of that. A spiritual practice that provokes that kind of excess thinking isn’t for me.
Or maybe it just requires a little modification. What if I allowed myself to dance through the labyrinth again? That would require me to overcome that sixth sense I’ve developed over the years, the one that says “It simply isn’t done.” It sounds spirited–and spiritual–to me. Conversely, what if I gave up my accustomed sense of sight, reliant on the feel of the terrain to know I was following the path? I would have to crawl, grounded in a tactile sense. Would I fight my way through the darkness? Or would I roll around in the dirt, reveling in my sightlessness? I’m not sure I could even complete a labyrinth by myself in that state. I would need the help of other people, ones willing to see me fumble around in broad daylight, to keep watch.
I can think of nothing more spiritual. Maybe I would rage at God. Or puzzle over God’s absence. Or feel overwhelmed by love. Or just pretend to be a mole. Anything but this painfully grown-up labyrinth performance. So no more spiritual tightropes. Let me not know what to say during prayer. Let me cry through my chants. Let me laugh through my Lectio. Let me walk the labyrinth on my knees and blindfolded.
Today, I want to lift the work of two late women writers of color who understood that spirituality must be embodied. Their words are powerful, challenging, and healing.
First, today is the birthday of Gloria Anzaldúa, a lesbian Chicana feminist writer and scholar. Born in south Texas, she lived life on the border, literally and figuratively. As a child, she was punished for speaking English with a Spanish accent. As an adult, she chose to write in a mixture of English and Spanish. Her award-winning work bridges scholarship and activism, addressing the strife and marginalization imposed by her blended identity and the ways that she reclaimed and decolonized her experience. Her words are sensual, poetic, and fierce.
Here’s a word from her: “Don’t give me your tenets and your laws. Don’t give me your lukewarm gods. What I want is an accounting with all three cultures–white, Mexican, Indian. I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails. And if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture–una cultura mestiza–with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture.”
You can read her most famous work, Borderlands, here. If you’re new to her work, I recommend “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” and “Entering into the Serpent.”
Second, we read a passage from womanist author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s Beloved today in Bodies class. I have nothing to add, but I want to leave it here. “When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman, and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing–a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of the path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place. In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees. After situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and prayed silently. The company watched her from the trees. They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, ‘Let the children come!’ and they ran from the trees toward her. Let your mothers hear you laugh,’ she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling.
Then ‘Let the grown men come,’ she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees. Let your wives and your children see you dance,’ she told them, and groundlife shuddered under their feet. Finally she called the women to her. ‘Cry,’ she told them. ‘For the living and the dead. Just cry.’ And without covering their eyes the women let loose. It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart. She did not tell them to clean up their lives or go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure. She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.
‘Here,’ she said, “In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it.
This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.’”
That’s all I have for today, Brave Ones. May it nourish you.
See a film version of that scene from Belovedhere.