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Center for Action and Contemplation
Embodied Knowing
Embodied Knowing

Sacred Bodies

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Feast of St. Clare of Assisi

Through her incarnational understanding of Mary and Jesus, writer Cole Arthur Riley honors her own embodied reality more deeply:

For me, the story of God becoming body is only matched by God’s submission to the body of a woman. That the creator of the cosmos would choose to rely on an embodied creation. To be grown, fed, delivered—God put faith in a body. In Mary’s muscles and hormones, bowels and breasts. And when Christ’s body is broken and blood shed, we should hold in mystery that first a woman’s body was broken, her blood shed, in order to deliver the hope of the world into the world. . . .

I believe that the spiritual realm is so enmeshed with the physical that it is imperceptible. I believe in the mysterious nearness of my ancestors, but I believe they are located at the site of my own blood and bone.

The chasm between the spiritual and the physical is not greater than that between a thought and a word. They cannot be disconnected. And it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins, perhaps because there is no such place.

We were never meant to dismember our selfhoods. My face is my soul is my blood is my glory. When we neglect the physical, it inevitably suffocates the image of a God who ate, slept, cried, bled, grew, and healed. . . .

I want a faith that loves the whole of me. And if I make it to the table of God, I hope it has cornbread stuffing and comfortable chairs. I mean no offense to the desert mothers and fathers eating locusts and honey . . . but I hope God knows how my cousin’s baked mac and cheese tastes. I hope he puts ham hocks in his greens and feels no shame. [1]

Scholar and activist Christena Cleveland studied Black Madonnas around the world and describes how their diverse and inclusive bodies encouraged generous acceptance of her own body:

The Sacred Black Feminine . . . helped me choose to embrace my body despite what society said about it. As I began to turn to images of the Black Madonna to guide me, I noticed they are not small women. They look like they have never fasted a day in their life. They look like they eat more than my boarding school staples of plain bagels, honeydew melon, and nonfat cottage cheese. They proudly take up space. . . .

The four-hundred-fifty plus Black Madonnas around the world encompass a wide range of skin colors, hair textures, body sizes, and ages. Some are pregnant. Some are breastfeeding with proudly exposed breasts. Some are gender nonconforming. The one thing they all have in common is that they are Black and they are holy. Seeing these diverse liberating images of the Sacred Black Feminine helped me relax into my body because I was able to relax into Her diverse and inclusive body. [2]


[1] Cole Arthur Riley, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us (New York: Convergent Books, 2022), 57, 60.

[2] Christena Cleveland, God Is a Black Woman (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2022), 154–155.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Kazuo Ota, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Nick Moore, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Richmond, Unsplash. Jordan Whitt, Cataloochee river (detail), 2016, Cataloochee, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: There is knowledge in our muscles and bones. When our body encounters the world, a door into deeper understanding can be opened.

Story from Our Community:

The more I embody Spirit and trust my True Self, the more life guides me in the right direction. One of the most challenging — and rewarding — parts was forgiving the unconscious acts of violence that “I” and “us” have both endured and created. I am personally responsible for the world and I have the power to change this with compassion, forgiveness, and understanding. I finally feel a sense of belonging on all levels. We are part of this collective consciousness, and still have work to do.
—Nienke J.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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