I watched her hand stroke along my arm, so gently, so lovingly. Her voice whispered, “I love you, Trelawney. I love you, Trelawney.” The soft, tender caress felt poignant, healing, magical. I wept with gratitude.
It was my own hand stroking me. My own voice.
I want you to take a moment and imagine the person you love best in the world. Is there anyone? Is there someone you love utterly, you think of with pure, unconditional, compassionate, embracing, affirming, tender, protective, loyal, sacred love? Close your eyes a moment and let that feeling of pure love fill your heart until you understand that feeling with every fiber of your being. Do you have that Love? Truly feel it and know it with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?
Now take all of that joyful, swelling Love and let it flow toward your hands. Your hands are vessels, conduits of gentle, embracing, tender Love. Close your eyes again, if you like, and lift your hands in front of your face. Breathe in deeply, gathering your Spirit even as your hands are gathering Love. Hold your breath in for a few beats… and, breath held, allow your fingertips to touch your face… gently, gently, stroking your cheeks and jaw and features, think to yourself, “I love you, ______.” Name yourself as your beloved. Whisper it now, as you let your breath release. Whisper it over and over, and say it softly aloud: “I love you, ______. I love you, ______. I love you, _____.”
Let your hands move down from your face to your shoulders, arms, belly, legs. Remember that once you were a tiny, vulnerable, trusting infant. Embrace that tiny child who still lives within you, still longs to be stroked with the reverent joy of a nurturing and adoring parent. Let every breath be a source of your love song to yourself. Let every movement of your hands be a caress of beautiful, compassionate embrace.
If we practice loving ourselves this way, who knows what may happen? Perhaps we may weather periods of isolation or loneliness more easily. Perhaps we may be more selective with our sexual partners, and avoid a few regrets. Perhaps we may hold our heads higher as we walk past the unending barrage of advertisements meant to objectify, dehumanize, and degrade us. Perhaps we may respond more calmly and intentionally when other people try to diminish us. Perhaps we may find it easier to make choices from a place of true empowerment rather than patriarchy-dictated formulas to try to please the societal Male Gaze.
When you use the sink in the bathroom, take a moment to ask yourself: What would you say to an infinitely precious, beloved child? When my oldest daughter was tiny, if she took her clothes off for a bath etc, I used to say “Look at your precious body! Look at your precious, beautiful self!” And so she started to say that to herself when she looked in her mirror. The other day, I was getting ready for one of my multiple daily baths to help my Covid recovery, and I was feeling grateful to my body for doing so well fighting off this terrifying invasion. As I glanced up into the mirror at my plump, grey-haired, haggard, middle-aged self, I just blurted it out: “Look at your precious body, Trelawney! Look at your precious, beautiful self!”
Now I say that every time I see myself in any mirror: “Trelawney, look at your precious, beautiful self!!” I say it with the tender adoration of a mother for her baby girl. I say it partly in defiance of this violent patriarchy, which pours billions of dollars into trying to brainwash us all into feeling inferior and subhuman and undeserving of Love. But mostly, I say it in reverent gratitude… I am alive. My precious body is still alive. My beautiful precious self has worked so hard for the past 45 years to weather violence, assault, rape, abuse, degradation, trauma, and now a life-threatening illness. Just look! Look at my beautiful, precious self!!
If we choose to say that to ourselves throughout each day, to see ourselves this way every day, who knows what may happen? Perhaps we may join our loving hands with other women and form an all-powerful, unbreakable chain of mighty female Love. Perhaps we may rise together and cast out the demons of misogyny and sexism forever. Perhaps we may birth a community of honorable, ethical relationality, in which our precious, beautiful bodies are always treated with reverence and respect. Perhaps we may spread holiness throughout all Creation until our very Earth is stroked gently all along Her beautiful, precious body.
When you lie in bed at night, I hope you will cuddle yourself. Give yourself a comforting hug. Stroke your hair gently from your forehead. Tuck yourself in. Give yourself a little kiss on your fingertips, and then press it to your cheek. No matter who else may have rejected, abandoned, or violated you, you still have the power to embrace, affirm, and nurture yourself. You can be your own most faithful best friend and champion. She who lives within you is your true self, your Love self, and your omnipresent Source of healing and strength. Let her hold you. She longs to hold you. Rest in her embrace, and let her restore your soul. Just look, sister! Look at your precious, beautiful self!!
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.