In 1988, Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is a narrative account of a former slave’s memories of post–Civil War Ohio. The story includes a “dean” of preachers—“Baby Suggs, holy”—who delivers an unforgettable sermon to those listening in a clearing in the woods.

In this sermon, Baby Suggs urges the hearers to love their flesh, because “out yonder” other people do not love it. But she does more than this. She also uses her body, particularly her twisted hip, as the climax of her heartfelt sermon, while the community brings it to a close with music.

Baby Suggs talks about the body and uses her own body to preach a word of hope and life to those in dire need of love. It’s a timely word; the people’s black bodies have been mistreated and deemed ugly and worthless. Baby Suggs’s explicit exhortation to love the flesh—that is, to love the body; it is not the Pauline idea of “flesh” she has in mind—suggests the important role of the human body in life in general and the religious life in particular.