Despite the distances involved, throughout my adulthood, I regularly visited my parents. As their home was small, I often found myself seated at the kitchen table with my mother while my father watched TV in the adjacent living room. During those visits, it was not unusual for my mother to come and stand behind me and begin working her fingers into my thick dark hair.
I knew why she did this—she was looking for my scars, hidden under the abundance of my hair but still visible to those with patience. Two scars are hidden by my hair. When I was three, I received a glancing blow from a horse’s hoof which cut my scalp causing it to bleed profusely. When I was six, I fell out of a tree in our back yard and cut my scalp again. Maternal fingers remembered where those scars should be, and Mom would weave her fingers through my hair until she found each scar. Then she would lovingly stroke each spot several times and return to her seat. Even at the time it seemed like she was offering a blessings to my wounds.
These experiences were vividly brought back to memory during a recent therapy session and got me to thinking about the various other physical scars on my body. My head alone has four scars—the two I just mentioned, a scar under my right eye where a cyst was removed when I was five, and a faint scar under my chin—the result of a fall in Yugoslavia.
Contemplation of other scars brings back memories of an active childhood. There’s the diamond shaped scar on my left wrist—result of a playground accident, and the diamond shaped scar on my right shin—obtained when I fell off of a metal stepladder. Another runs from the ball of my right foot up to the space between the big and second toes. At age twelve, I was convinced I knew how to make a birdhouse and borrowed my dad’s saw to cut some scrap wood. I can still remember hobbling into the kitchen, blood streaming down my foot, and saying, “Well Mom, I’ve done it now,” and then passing out.
Two broken bones marked my restless young adulthood—a toe broken while dancing and a clavicle broken in Greece. More recently, surgical scars—joint replacement, cancer surgery and such—have been added to my inventory of bodily adventures. These scars, occurring during the last fifteen years, serve as reminders of my body’s resilience and ability to heal, even during my later decades.
Like many American women, I’ve always had body issues. Raised in the Western cultural and spiritual tradition that separates body from spirit/soul, my attention has mostly focused on the latter. I’ve seen my body as a vehicle to carry my soul—not beautiful but reasonably attractive, strong and sturdy enough to do what I wanted, and sensuous enough to enjoy physical pleasure.
When I began thinking about my scars, I started to see things in a different light. I realized that my body is a roadmap of my life experiences. And I began to wonder what it would be like to touch my physical scars—to say I love you to each scarred and sacred place and to thank it for healing—to offer every scar I carry the same blessing my mother used to offer to those invisible beneath my hair.
In her wonderful audio book titled ‘The Joyous Body,’ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes the body as our most constant companion or consort. She observes that our body is the only entity that travels with us—consistently present—for our entire life journey. The body protects us from physical harm, provides us with physical pleasure and, through the senses, is the source of all information coming from the outside world. Estes speaks with passion about the miraculous nature of the human body from its ability to nurture and heal itself to its amazing ability to create and birth life. As I reflect on these words, I’ve come to realize what amazing gifts this scarred and battered body brings.
I’ve created a ritual to acknowledge this sacred gift in a more intentional manner and I’d like to share it with you. The beauty of this ritual is that you can make it as simple or complex as you like. This can be done in bed as you are preparing for sleep, or in a steaming hot bath with candles, incense, and sacred oils. The language you use can be elaborately conceived, or very simple. It can be contained within a larger ritual of self-love or stand alone. It can be done naked or fully clothed.
The first time I did this I was taking a hot bath. I soaped my hands, started at my feet, and stroked each physical scar, remembering the injury that had caused it, and repeating this simple prayer: “Thank you for healing from this wound. Thank you for taking care of me. I love you.” I included both the visible external scars and the invisible internal scars, such as broken bones or lost body parts. As I rinsed the soap off, I chanted ‘I love you’ over and over to my body.
The words said are less important that the intention to express gratitude and love. When I finished, I felt like I was on the path to a deeper understanding of and respect for my consort—my constant companion—my sacred body. Now I see my scars in a different light—as milestones on the journey of my life, eminently worthy of honor and love.
I invite you to gift your body—your consort—with this ritual of love, or something else that you create with a similar intention. It’s a simple way to express your love and gratitude to your consort—your lifelong companion—your one and only scarred and sacred body.
BIO: Mary F. Gelfand is an ordained Interfaith Minister and a Wiccan High Priestess. She holds a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. As a Unitarian Universalist, she has served in both local and national leadership roles, including five years as national board president of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). She is an experienced teacher of Cakes for the Queen of Heaven—adult education program focused on feminist thealogy and the Great Goddess. A practicing Pagan, her spiritual life is rooted in the cycles and seasons of the natural world which are so abundantly visible in New England. She reads and teaches about feminist theology, the Great Goddess, mysticism, and the mysteries of Tarot. As a fiber artist, she enjoys weaving tapestry and knitting gifts for strangers and friends.