The Altar

The Altar

This Body
with all of its stories,
living in this mind,
containing this spirit
is the shape of me,
a vessel

with just enough history
to tell you a secret
that I can only keep for so long.

There is a moment in time
when you realize that
every experience,
each moment of friction and
tenderness and love,

even anger with its
sharp tongue and flailing limbs
or elation with equal surrender,

every touch
hands seeking some understanding
shoulders brushing
hips thrusting,

even those pristine moments alone
when you wonder where Love went,

there is a moment in time
when you realize
that everything is for you.

And so you turn
every sweet kiss
every raw wound
every whispering risk
every emotional collision
and passionate decision
every awkward embrace
and every divine union,

you bend and lean and pull and fall
into each breath
to pray yourself open,
to see that you
with your skin covering muscles and tendons and bones,
you are a vessel with life pouring through you.
Your structure
built out of ancient wisdom
conceived from light
and woven together with a thread
of man and woman,
you are fragile and supple
and certain and solid.
You are scent
and skin
and heartbeat
and breath
and a myriad of rhythms
that pound and beat
and shush and slip.
You are fertile
and luscious.

You are an altar.
You are a temple,
stained glassed eyes
carved gate of rib cage
drum of heart
curved archway and steeple of limbs
cherished cup of pelvis
chalice of lips
incantations of tongue
receptacle of ears
woven parchment of skin,
folded open
to trace fingers across the sacred text of you.
— By Jaime Williams

Each of us have experienced those defining and difficult moments where we feel like there is nothing positive that can come from our circumstances.  We embody sadness, anger, fear, grief, shame.  Time becomes a slow weight, the hands circling with a heavy cadence, a thrum uttering “I am alone”.  The world widens often when we see situations across the globe that we deem greater than our suffering.  We compare and gain perspective, step out of our prison, never fully realizing that we have had the key all along.  What if we could change the picture, bury the prison and instead imagine a kind of ritual.  No longer trapped by our suffering we would give ourselves permission to explore each emotion fully, we would forge a deeper connection to our own strength, resilience, understanding, compassion and wisdom.  What if grief, fear, sadness or anger…what if they were waiting to be experienced?  What if they were equal to joy or elation?   Measuring them, balancing the weight of each, could suffering then be replaced by experiencing?  Each moment that carves us out in some way, that brings us to our knees, could become a ritual that opens us to unfamiliar territory in ourselves, necessary darkness, satiating silence, penetrating ache, a baptism of crying, deep relief in laughing, even those sensations that have no name. What if these experiences were the only way to our freedom?  What if our bodies were temples?  Though temple is often a word riddled with historical judgment, oppression and greed, it could be reclaimed, unhinged from its ancestral burdens and barriers and tethered to the original root “a building for worship”.  Imagine the possibility that each experience we’ve had is a moment to bow into ourselves, to surrender, to embody understanding, to honor our intricate fragility more deeply, to recognize that we are holy.  The world would become a different place or at the very least our internal world would begin to expand into the world we live in, reflecting a kind of vulnerability we haven’t ever fully accepted as an asset.  What if we nourished parts of ourselves that were hurting, shamed, isolated?  Would this kind of presence, generous compassion and unapologetic living allow us to become more vital, more malleable, more clear and ultimately more authentically connected to those around us? 


Nothing separates us from one another more severely than the belief that life is against us.  And shame, self-criticism, comparison often lock us into this belief.  If life was against us we’d have to live in such a way that was protective, vigilant, isolated and cautious.  It is clear these are ways of being that have become so familiar we have come to believe they are essential for our survival.  Imagine becoming the guardians of our temples instead.  We would utilize boundaries because we were wise or following our intuition, rather than protective shields because others can hurt us.  We would operate with compassion and honesty rather than pity and placating.  We would stop being accommodating and start being clear and receptive.  Those same experiences that have the right to destroy us would instead reflect the kind of impenetrable beauty that arises in the most surprising places.  We could make a mosaic out of the shattered pieces and strengthen the fractures rather than substantiating the injury.  We could build a shrine out of the rubble.  We could experience the way in which something wild, fragile and organic grows through the cracks of our armor.  Those experiences that seem unbearable, that may unravel everything beautiful for a time, would no longer be obstacles to freedom but doorways to liberation.


Reflecting on the places in my life that were the most difficult, has allowed me to see the way in which certain painful moments have added so deeply to who I am.  That was not true for me years ago.  I could not have said boldly that what I was going through would lead me to living a vital and satiating life.  That being said, I have never been through a war, never lost a child, never been raped.  These experiences are not the ones that have formed me and for that I am grateful.  I can only imagine what it would take to grow through that kind of pain, I can only imagine the amount of time and great care that it would take to heal and build something new out of the broken heart these burdens create.  Our ability to live as if we were temples requires an abiding presence, a willingness to experience and ultimately whole-heartedly embrace those parts of ourselves that hide in the shadows.  The truth is we have to go through them no matter what and one of the only things that makes difficult experiences worse is fighting the emotions that have built naturally as a result of the way our lives unfold. 


This one precious life has so far been such a humbling experience.  The stained glass windows that I look through, made from shards of glass that were formed out of my experiences and hemmed together with an alchemy of emotions lived, heightens your beauty.  The colors that I get to see you through are ones that I have held long enough to understand and I’m so grateful that I get to see you through them.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.    


photos compiled by Kalyja Rain Bear of Bear Bones Photography
thank you to all the women who were able to wear my words.  You are  part of a tribe of beautiful people who have changed my life and I'm so grateful.