My body, my sacred space

Photo by Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance: A girl participates in a dance program, Haiti 2011.

Song of Songs 1:5-6

Dark am I, and lovely, daughters of Jerusalem—
like the black tents of the Kedar nomads,
like the curtains of Solomon’s palace.
Don’t stare at me because I’m darkened
by the sun’s gaze.
My own brothers were angry with me.
They made me a caretaker of the vineyards—
but I couldn’t care for my own vineyard.

The Beloved’s words in the text are hardly read/spoken outside of weddings, for us women have been taught modesty, and implicit in the teaching is the shame of one’s innocent beauty.

Thus, many of us hate our bodies – bodies which do not match up to the media ideal; hating our bodies because of the liberties taken without our consent; hating ourselves for being born woman.

Years ago, I met a former female child soldier whose homeland I visited recently as part of the WCC’s Pilgrim Team Visits. The sights I saw; the stories I heard of child soldiers and unwanted children who sometimes hate their bodies as a result of ‘collateral damage’ are captured by poet and theologian Kelli Jolly:

If you ever feel at all compelled to touch me; if you

ever feel the need to tell me how you feel about

my legs or chest or arms or lips or stomach or

backside or face, just don't. Your compulsions don't

matter to me - don't make them my problem. You

are not entitled to them, so long as they concern

me. My body -my sacred space. Signed, woman.

I did not meet any of those women directly, but I met women who tended their children. I heard much in the silence of those who cared so passionately, though moved to compassionate secrecy.

Sometimes, I create their stories in my mind, processing their pain; shaping their own niche in a hostile, uncomfortable world. Can you hear them -

She laughed a brazen laugh as she pondered the many men who had spit out words that were meant to chew her sense of self worth and rip apart the love letters she had written to herself about beauty and pride and courage and power. Yes they, with their false sense of entitlement and their expectation of finding some insecure little fragile thing, broke their toes as their words kicked at her stomach. Their fists bled as their words took punches at all her mental parts. Their tongues fell violently from their foul faces as they said everything they thought their false sense of power should allow them to say and go free as men often do. Yes. She laughed at the spectacle of these fools dressed like businessmen and musicians and preachers, teachers and lawyers - homeless men too. What is a woman ever to do in this world? She can find herself loving herself, and she can find a little humour in watching them all fail miserably again and again at snatching her God-given dignity away.

Thank you Kelli for carving dignity from pain and shame.

About the author :

Rev. Nicole Ashwood serves as WCC programme executive for a Just Community of Women and Men since 1 November 2018. She is a minister of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, a graduate of both the Bossey Ecumenical Institute and Eden Theological Seminary (USA). She has experience in forming regional ecumenical partnerships that address domestic violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.