Sunday, October 13, 2013

Black Women: Laying Hands, Restoring and Healing

Literature such as, The Women of Brewster Place (Naylor, 1982), Praisesong for the Widow (Marshall, 1983), and the Book of Night Women (James, 2009) often depict scenes of Black women’s use of ritualistic healing baths and the laying of hands. Such baths and laying of hands are depicted in James’s work when he details the events following the rape of the protagonist. He writes,

“HOMER SQUEEZE BLOOD OUT OF THE RAG AND DIP HER HAND in the bucket. She squeeze some of the warm water out and rub Lilith face careful. She touch Lilith neck, then forehead. She wipe the dirt and dry blood from Lilith. Now Lilith on the bed as Homer washing her.… Homer cut some sinkle-bible plant stalk and scrape the clear jelly out of the middle. … First she rub some on Lilith face, then neck. Gorgon rub down her breast… Gorgon scrape some jelly out of a stalk and rub her belly.”

These women “laid hands” on Lilith in an attempt to bring her back from the “dead”. Through their ministrations, they were able to expunge the men from Lilith’s body. In essence, they cast out the “demons”.

In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved there is a similar laying of the hands. Baby Suggs cleans Sethe’s body. “She cleaned between Sethe’s legs with two separate pans of hot water and then tied her stomach and vagina with sheets….Roses of blood blossomed in the blanket covering Sethe’s shoulders…wordlessly the older woman greased the flowering back.”

These women, who are a part of a “league of women” all suffered the brutalities of slavery; however, they were able to transcend the injustices extolled on their bodies and tend to other (younger) women. In essence, they engage in a restorative transitional process, if only temporary, from the horrors of slavery. The process of laying hands and the use of healing baths offer a safe haven and a spiritual space where the mind and body can have a reprieve from the brutalities of slavery and other oppressive structures; they offer survival.
Taking Literature to Real Life Experiences

This past week was, simply put, emotionally difficult. I spent a considerable about of my week trying to help others cope with injustices and marginalization. Sometimes just listening to the stories left me in a state of shock. I found myself numb, angry, and in a state of disbelief. Even more so I found myself in a state of pain. The type of pain that my doctor couldn’t help me with even if I went to see her. My psyche had been abused and ravaged.

I found myself wanting to retreat, just so I could catch my breath. But each day, I knew that my possibility for retreat was small. It was small because I simply can’t walk away from my life (I’ll blog later about trying to walk away emotionally, in a healthy way).

But in the midst of my hurt something happened. I started getting emails and text messages. I got a call saying let’s have lunch on Friday. I got the healing touch from a number of Black women and other women of color. These women wrapped me and bathed me and they “greased my flowering back”.

Many of these women were unaware of my current experiences and were simply reaching out, as one email read, “to check in with me and see how I was doing.” As the “older” one in many of these relationships, I’ve grown accustomed to the restorative doing. But now I found myself in the position of receiving their restorative and healing touch.

There is something absolutely healing from this touch. It afforded me a space, a space between the constant tensions I seem to exist in at this moment (and I say it’s a moment for various reason). This space freed me up. I didn’t have to spend time explaining my reaction to the events I’ve recently and consistently been bombarded with. I didn’t need to explain why I felt tired and drained. I could simply be. I could be in their warm words and touch. I could be in their loving understanding. I could be restored!

Through their laying of hands I was afforded a space, just like Lilith and Sethe. This was a space of respite offered to me even when they were also confronting and fighting against injustice. They afforded me an opportunity to live life on the “Ands”

This is the eight post of my 31-day blogging challenge. You can tweet me at Dr_JZ using hash tag #31dbc to share your thoughts and share your stories.


  1. I used to work on the volunteer staff of a crisis center for homeless women and their children. This was the hardest and most spiritually draining job that I've ever worked because in helping these families, I had to live through some of their tragedies with them. I eventually had to walk away when the rest of my life became affected by the constant sadness that I was feeling. It takes a special person to sacrifice themselves completely to the service of other. I had to accept that I just wasn't that person. We all need our safe space to retreat and heal when needed. For me, that safe place was with my family.

    1. Yes, I agree that we have to make choices; centered on that delicate mix of serving and maintaining our individual/personal safety. So many times, I think that women don't always talk about the tension in finding this delicate mix. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences.