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 Beloved here.