A human body is a SACRED SPACE
by Colette Coughlin
Damn Adam and Eve for getting us chased out the garden, making us have to wear clothes and recreate sacred spaces because we’d suddenly become shameful, profane creatures! But then where would we be without a multi-ka-trillion dollar fashion industry, internet pornography, style magazines, beauty pageants, royalty, celebrity obsession, hairstyling and make-up? Probably in an even worse recession.
Some subjects are newsworthy just because they’re so touchy. Put eroticism and churches together and you’ve got a sure-sell. I followed this link to this funny little piece of news about a semi-nude photo shoot in a (gasp!) British church but what struck me the most about the article were the comments by a church representative: “The Church deplores the use of sacred space in this way… The pictures would be deeply offensive to people who view the place for regular worship. That’s not what these buildings are intended for and he [the photographer] is deliberately taking advantage of the situation. Whether he’s gone in there legally or illegally he is using the setting for an entirely improper purpose. By anyone’s reasonable standards of decency this is beyond the pale…”
In another article on the event, “A Christian Institute spokesman said it was ‘an affront to Christians throughout Britain’”.
I agree that permission should have been obtained to use the space first, and it is likely and even understandable that it would have been refused. What I find upsetting in this whole scenario is how quickly the discussion escalates into exaggerations like “S&M fetishishists” and “blasphemy” when in fact it was just pretty girls in skimply clothes posing quietly in a completely empty church. I guess the Victorian divide between sacred places of worship and the profanity of the human body is still alive and kicking.
The point I wanted to make about this mishap is simply that OUR BODIES are OUR SACRED SPACES! They are our God-given temples in which we spend our entire lives. And what one individual considers to be a “reasonable standard of decency” is completely different from another’s. So what’s behind the uproar, really? Understandably, respect for the use of public, shared spaces. And what constitutes art, and what constitutes decency. All very movable, opinionated questions. Yet a movie about a serial killer had been filmed in the very same church, and Andy Craddock, the trespassing photographer, defends his actions this way:
‘I chose the church because I saw it in Keeping Mum and I loved the architecture… How is it worse having someone naked in the church than having a film set there about murder and death? If the parishioners are upset by the naked girls on their altar, why are they not as upset about murders set around the church and the village?’
What if we stopped treating the human body like a subject, a model, a clothes rack, a rash to be creamed, a wrinkle to be smoothed, or a pawn to be killed? What if we stopped treating it like an object, a toy, a dirty pleasure, a tool for performance, profit, exposure, or commercial promotion? What if we stopped abusing it, ignoring it, maltreating it, destroying it, dishonouring it and exploiting it? What if we treated the human body, EVERY human body, with as much respect as a 13th century architectural gem like that church and it’s congregration deserve?
My prayer to the churches of the world, the artists and engineers and pornographers and photographers and models of the world, the parents and children and lovers and humans of the world is to wake up and take a good hard look at the bodies we live in day after day; their extraordinary capacities and their natural beauty, and the many astonishing things they allow us to accomplish and experience. If each of us acted with just a little more gentle gratitude towards the marvelous organic machine that we live in, we would be fighting for different standards of decency, and instead of bickering over the integrity of a building or a group practice, we would be defending our planet and it’s inhabitants and protecting them and each other from the rampant commercial and ideological destruction that goes on constantly with no respect for the most basic forms of honour for ourselves and each other as incomprehensibly fragile human creatures. The self-portrait I chose to illustrate this post is one that really brings home that fragility to me, and makes me appreciate the miracle and the sacredness of my very temporary life even more.