Spirituality and Sexuality – The Colour Purple PR

Dear God,

I don’t think I ever believed in you, never truly. I reflect on my religious experiences when I thought you were there. I was baptized, and I have a home video. I, a naked child in a church in Russia, with the distant sounds of a choir, and the mumbles of a priest blessing me. I rewatched it, not being able to connect with the child being dipped in the basin. I remember praying to you, God, as a kid, before bed every night. It didn’t suit me, but I remember the moon shining through the window, and the sight of it would help me fall asleep.  I was sent to bible camp, and I went willingly, excited to finally understand Christianity. I thought I was just ignorant—  that my lack of knowledge was what was keeping me from understanding God. I remember on one of the nights, we had chapel outside, on the lake. I don’t remember anything about what the pastor was saying, all I seem to remember is the sound of the lake, looking at the forest, and the bats that were flying overhead. None of this is to say I had a negative religious experience with Christianity. I never felt forced into believing in God. Even during Thanksgiving, when my aunts expected me and my cousins to prepare prayers to speak aloud, I found religion to be something that brought people together. But I knew, right from when I was little, that Christianity did not fit me.

I never knew what to make of these experiences. The Awakening provided some insight, but The Colour Purple was an entirely different experience for me. The spiritual and sexual journey Celie underwent was so refreshing and genuinely pleasurable. The epistolary format allowed me to really become one with Celie, and see from her point of view. One fear I have writing this PR is that it will sound similar to my response to The Awakening. I want to make it clear that while they may be alike, my response was quite different, even if I have a hard time expressing it.

There were three threads that I personally found to be the most influential while on Celie’s journey, those being her experiences with Spirituality and Sexuality.

Celie seems to be much more religiously dedicated than I was, for the first half of the book, her letters are dedicated to Him. For a younger, naive Celie, God was her only friend. That’s what she believed, because Alphonso told her right from the start, “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (p. 1). Her own mother would not be able to handle Celie’s traumatic experience, so how could anyone else? Only God. Celie relied on that idea until she saw Shug Avery. Celie’s grace shifted from God to a picture of Shug quite distinctly, as she held on to it as one would a cross or a bible, “all night long I stare at [the picture of Shug]. An now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery” (p. 6). The attachment helps Celie, creating a distance between her traumatic situation. Celie thinks of Shug as an idol, someone she can rely on, and be faithful in, despite not knowing her.  And isn’t that just the definition of a God?

Shug becomes so incredibly important to Celie. She’s in love with Shug, and that first love helps her realize that the talk of love, romance, and sex, are real, real things. Celie finds it particularly difficult to realize this, as lesbian couples do not conform to societal norms. We do not expect Celie to realize why her romantic life is dull due to the fact that she is not interested in men. It becomes easy for us, especially when we’re younger and less knowledgeable, to doubt the existence of constructs like love, because we haven’t experienced them yet. We think; “Love, Sex, Romance, they aren’t for me, they’re gross. I would never do that.” It’s not until we have those experiences that we see the pleasant reality of it. Shug helps Celie understand that while she may be married, have been pregnant and kissed her husband before; she still has not genuinely felt the joys of them—meaning she’s “still a virgin” (p. 76). Celie’s exploration of her identity and sexuality would not have been propagated if Shug had not been there to pull Celie out of conventional ideas of romance.

Part of that includes decriminalizing things like sex for Celie. The conventional idea, which is still quite common today, is that sex is a dirty, sinful act. Shug shuts that idea down,

Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

God don’t think it dirty? I ast.

Naw, she say. God made it. (p.195)

Celie learning to love herself, and to allow enjoyment in her life, whether sexual or not, really helped her growth. Loving herself, too, became sacred, as God was in everything, he made everything. It’s an odd twisting of normal religious beliefs— why would we ever believe that God hates his creations? It would mean that we had an evil God. Shug’s God is a lot more convincing, in my opinion. Even before this, as they’re still getting to know each other, Celie “wash[es] [Shug’s] body, it feel like I’m praying” (p. 48). Shug herself becomes God-like, in Celie’s eyes, by being the person to help facilitate her self-growth. This manifested in Celie in her womanly strength, modelling herself after Shug and Sofia.

Celie’s spiritual journey, through Shug’s help, allowed me to have a much deeper appreciation for nature, trees, stars, people, and even the colour purple. This clever novel will be a big step in my own spiritual journey. I know that the common Christianity does not suit me, but maybe something closer to Shug’s view on God and Its passion for the natural does a bit more. Like Shug, “that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all” (p.195) is the nicest feeling, in terms of the human experience. When I think of Thanksgiving, my entire family together, I don’t care about the prayer, I care about the people around me. I cherish their presence, and that is God.


Leave a Reply