Hey, boo! My name is Lyvonne, I’m originally from New York City, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, and I am NOT your mama’s preacher. I am a body-and sex-positive pastor. Gasp! Clutch your pearls! FAINT. Come to, Sis. Grab some water. It’s going to be a juicy ride.
Now, you might be wondering what on Blue Ivy’s green earth is a body-and sex-positive pastor? Essentially, I am a Black woman spiritual leader who is no longer at war with her body. And now, I am helping y’all to not be at war with your bodies, too! How do I do that? Well, I’m so glad you asked. I invested thousands of hours and dollars in my theological education. I have served in both sacred and secular institutions to lead some really tender conversations, a role that I certainly evolved into. When I reflect on my education, expertise, and experience, however, it’s clear that, even at a young age, I knew my power was in my voice.
My mom and I used to take the subway from our Black, middle-class Queens neighborhood to the swanky, white Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she worked and I attended preschool. One morning, I felt particularly rambunctious and was asking my darling mother a slew of questions. All the while, agitated subway riders, in their varying precaffeinated states, would have much preferred that this cute but supremely chatty four-year-old would hush up. Mommy (this is her favorite part of the story, by the way) ignored the evil glares of those F-train onlookers and lovingly nudged me: “What else?”
“What else?” is an affirmation of the body, an invitation of the mind, and a celebration of the spirit. It beckons the speaker to go deeper because the hearer is truly listening. Like my mom, I am asking “What else?” to this day. While navigating the old boys’ club of ministry and discerning how to be the minister that I
needed when I was a child, I learned how to foster holistic, healthy, nuanced, multilayered conversations beyond antiquated, outdated cultural norms. The countless sermons I had heard preached about how evil women are and how our bodies must be tamed no longer fit the woman I was becoming. I knew there had to be something . . . else
. And I know you sense that, too; otherwise, you wouldn’t be holding this book, beloved.
So, I’m asking you to consider, in the words of my friend, queer theologian Xan West, “Who does it serve?” Who does it serve for you to think that your body—in all of its Godgiven glory—is evil? Who benefits from you believing that your body-temple is something that needs to be mastered, beaten, or lorded over? The colonized religion of our childhood made us feel like our bodies are inherently offensive to God, mere apparatuses that we need to subdue. How can we claim God is good and honor the Bible when it says: God looked at her Creation and declared it was good,
yet we deem ourselves “bad”? Some bodies got some things wrong along the way!
My mother is from the island of Barbados and my father is from Guyana in South America, both former British colonies. As such, I acknowledge that, in addition to the myriad social ills in the Continental U.S., my upbringing includes fresher layers of British imperialism and colonialism. Colonizing is the very antithesis of liberating. This understanding urges me to embrace a freedom model that fully sheds the patriarchal, anti-Black, anti-woman nature of colonized religions. I reject any ideology that does not nurture my wholeness, sovereignty, and agency. The layers of westernized thinking I shed most recently gave me space to spiritually evolve and explore African Traditional Religions (ATRs).
Ghana declared 2019 “The Year of the Return” as a way to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans reaching American shores. This season of remembrance invited children of the African Diaspora to return to the Continent as a way to reconnect with our ancestral roots and heritage. Sadly, I did not journey home during that auspicious time, but I absolutely adored
seeing all of the photos and videos on social media as travelers shared their experiences of being welcomed home by our African kin.
There is something beautiful and timeless about not being related by blood, but still being knit together as a tribe. The way we claim neighborhood kids as our play-cousins and call our women elders “Auntie” (even without any biological relation to our parents) is indicative of the tribal nature of Black folks. We are communal by design and accustomed to being in and among extended communities. Our African siblings and elders were waiting to receive us, to affirm us as beloved children with a familiar home—not refugees in a strange land.
Similarly, you might be estranged from it, but your sensuality is not a stranger. You might not speak the language yet, but your sexuality is not a foreigner. They each have a home—inside of you. The REAL you. The you created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27).
In ancient West African religions, particularly the Yoruba tradition of Ifa, there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. Every . . . single . . . thing . . . is sacred. This framework creates social norms, values, and mindsets that celebrate, rather than vilify, Black/African/Africandescended women’s bodies. Naming and honoring that which is holy in our body-temples makes us God on the earth. We are human expressions of the Divine. We are not territory to be conquered. We are God’s good Creation, meant to be cherished. Many of us are healing not only our own woundedness, but that of our foremothers as well.
It is time to come home, beloved. This is your calling card. Your ancestors are calling you. Your God is aligning with you. Your community is supporting you. The liberated woman of faith you desire to be is on the other side of your comfort zone. Now all you have to do is take a deep cleansing breath, say a quick prayer, set a loving intention, and start your journey back to your home.
If you’re with me, grab a journal (the one you have stashed in the tote bag from that conference back in 2014 will suit just fine!), brew a cup of tea, and let’s get into it!
One final note before we begin, beloved. This book comes with a content warning. A content warning is a statement at the start of a conversation, video, or writing that alerts the listener or viewer or reader that there are going to be some potentially distressing topics discussed.
Because I am fully aware that when I am in a room full of Black women, woundedness is present, I invite you to:
Go at your own pace.
Pay attention to feelings that come up for you.
Take breaks as you need to.
Seek support or counseling if you can.
You can do this. You can do hard things!
Go with God, beloved. . . . I’ll see you on the journey.
With deep love and gratitude,