spirituality and the sexual healing journey

‘one moment your life is a stone in you, the next a star’ –Rilke 

Spirituality, from the Latin root, spirare, meaning to breathe, is that which is vital to our being alive. It animates us. It quickens us. It brings that which is essential deep into our beings where it can be integrated, and allows that which is toxic within us to be expressed.  How vital, how cleansing, then is a life-giving spirituality to one healing from the wounds of sexual trauma.



A life-giving spirituality connects us to the sacred quality of our lives. We are connected to that which is sacred within ourselves, within the other, and within life itself. A life-giving spirituality brings meaning to our experience here, and may connect us to something meaningful beyond ourselves of which we are a part. And while a healthy spirituality may or may not be nourished and expressed through organized religion, the word religion itself, means to re-bind, to tie fast, to bandage. To reconnect.



It is precisely because that which is broken within us through the experience of sexual trauma is our connection to ourselves as sacred beings worthy of being lovingly attended to, that the emergence of a healthy spirituality can play a role in the healing of its wounds. It is precisely because the integrity of our beings has been violated and defiled that we find ourselves being led on spiritual journeys to reclaim it as good. And it is precisely because the experience of sexual trauma disconnects us from ourselves, disconnects us from our ability to find the sacred in the other, and disconnects us from the sacredness that is this journey we call life itself, that we need a spirituality that can reconnect us once again. We hunger for a Love that honors who we are. We yearn to believe in the goodness of the other. We long to find joy and beauty in life. And we need to find something meaningful here that will make us want to remain and engage fully in our days.


 I believe that there is something deep within each one of us that knows the way to wholeness, an inner voice of wisdom and of Love. No matter what name is given to it, opening and attending to this deeper loving presence heals us. Perhaps because that which we most need to contact and develop within ourselves, in order to heal the profound wounds of sexual violation, is a deep compassion, an indwelling voice of Love that can be present to our pain, it is natural that we begin to find ourselves also contacting and awakening to that within us, which is the source of love, which is Love Itself, which is whatever we come to understand this Loving essence to be. Perhaps it is a resonance, like so many bells resounding, deeper and deeper. As our own tiny bell of love begins to ring for our self, in response to whatever has moved or disturbed it, more bells are awakened by the vibrations. 

Sometimes it seems to me, both in myself and in my work with wounded men and women, that there has been something tending to our wounds beneath our awareness for a long time. It is as if, in a place of survival, something goes underground along with the pain, beneath the numbing wall that safeguards us from consciousness. It is as if in our sometimes necessary disconnection from our experience, we are also disconnected from our deeper selves where Love resides. Sometimes it seems to me as if Love and the lost parts of self walk hand and hand deep within our interior landscape. Perhaps this is where our loving essence is most needed, after all, when we are for whatever reason unable to experience or attend to our pain.  But when,   – because the screams of pain have grown loud enough for us to hear, -or because we are finally in a place of safety where we can let the pain be known, -or because some new grief or trauma has ripped open a passageway(yes, often it is the trauma itself that opens us)-or because the births of our own sons and daughters remind us of the presence of our own wounded inner child– or because some other life experience awakens us- we at last open to the wound, the passageway created suddenly allows us access to the vastness which is deeper within.

We are then compelled to seek and follow the voice of Love that beckons from this inner terrain. Perhaps we cannot yet see it…it is perhaps hidden behind an imposing mountain, around the bend of a meandering river, deep in the darkness of the forest…but we can hear its call. We hear it as a longing for something more, a yearning to embrace our experience and ourselves wholly, a hunger for healing and for reconciliation, a deep desire to claim our lives as meaningful and good, a yearning to give ourselves utterly to our lives.

 I suspect it is in fact these combined voices of Love and pain, trying to get our attention, that lead us toward healing from the very beginning of our journeys, although the direction may at first appear to be otherwise. My own healing journey led me deeper and deeper into this place where Love resides. My screams of despair, disguised as outrageous behavior (notice the out-rage in that word), finally got my attention by breaking me—open. Open to the extremities of my pain, yes, but also open to something more exquisite than that. Some say it is the crack in our lives that can finally let the light pour through. For me, what came flooding through that portal was filled with intense sorrow and sometimes-suicidal despair, but also came with an equally intense Love and Wisdom clinging to it.

Finally, we come into our fullness not by turning away from our brokenness, but by entering into it, not despite our experience of life but by embracing it. As the container opens, we are somehow able to hold it all. It is held by a Love much vaster than the controlling little ones of which we were previously aware….our shallow containers and images of God, for instance, our small definitions of who we are, our narrow ideas about the meaning of life into which our concept of self once had to fit. 

The primary vehicle through which both spirit and pain were able to find expression for me was poetry. This became my conduit for journeying deeper into my own healing, for bringing to the surface both what it was I needed to release and what it was I needed to hear. For others spirit may breathe to them (recall the taking in of the essential, the release of the toxic that a healthy spirituality provides) as it has to me through nature, through movement, through meditation and prayer, through art or song, through parable or metaphor, myth or sacred text, through dream or other imagery. In the process of seeking meaning, the inexpressible often takes such forms to communicate its blessings, to re-connect us to our deeper truths. These speak the language of soul for which there is no tongue.

 One client recently imagined herself to be a violin, whose strings had become broken and ragged from abuse and secrecy, rediscovered in a dusty case in the corner of darkened attic. She now images herself being lovingly attended to and played, her strings repaired so that they are more able to resonate the melody of Love.  Another friend imagines herself in the painful process of giving birth to herself while being attended to lovingly by a midwife.  Still another, who found comfort in the image of a cabin in the woods where he was nursed to health by one who knew the healing roots that grow there, now finds himself opening out into a meadow.   All of these and more are examples of spirit moving. 

We must learn to listen and attend to these interior movements and begin to trust again the gentle loving voice of an inner authority. Part of the wounding that occurs in sexual trauma is that, cut off from our deeper selves, we ingest and believe the lie of the external voices of authority who have defined for us who we are, what life is, what our experience means, who/what God or Love is.  Constricted by these images, we live our lives as poet Mary Oliver expresses it, ‘breathing just a little, and calling it life’.   Recall again the connection of spirituality with our breath…. the deep nourishment and release. The night I dreamt the words that awakened me, ‘You are bound to beauty’, I knew that breathing/drinking deeply of this life was mine at last to claim. Much of my trauma occurred while I was bound. To be re-bound to the beauty that I am, to the beauty that life is, was to take back my life as good. It was to be re-bound, re-connected to self, to life, to others, and to the exquisite mystery that binds and contains it all.  

Vicki Kensinger is a spiritual director and retreat leader residing in Palmyra, Pa. She is a member of Sarcc’s newly formed Spiritual Advisory Committee. You can find out more about her work at http://www.sacredlistening.org



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