By Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord and Dr. Lois M. Sprague
Articulating the urgency of combatting violence against women and girls globally, the authors describe a program of community reconciliation and healing undertaken by The Guibord Center with a great depth of spirit.
The Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord, Founding President of The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out, is an internationally respected voice in the interfaith movement who has earned both the trust and affection of many throughout the world. Guibord has served on numerous boards and led many ecumenical and interfaith organizations. She is adjunct faculty at Claremont School of Theology and a much sought after speaker.
Dr. Lo Sprague, Ph.D., C.P. is a talented writer, photographer, lecturer and Jungian-oriented psychotherapist who has had a successful private practice and served on the faculty of several academic institutions and various non-profit boards. She is a deeply spiritual and passionate educator and who challenges students to participate fully in the on-going adventure of discovery and awakening.
Yanking away the cloak of silence and talking openly about the issue of religiously sanctioned violence is a powerful and necessary first step in moving towards combatting the global epidemic of oppression and brutality against women and girls. The perpetrators and collaborators alike must be called out. The distorting of scripture and culture confronted and addressed. Policies and permission that support the violence challenged and halted.
The task is urgent. Daunting. Consuming. Requiring strategic collaborations and clear courageous actions.
But what then? The end of the war is never the end of the trauma. And we simply cannot wait until the war is over to begin the healing because violence begets violence.
Violence is more than a one-time event experienced in the mind. It is an internalized process experienced throughout the body, mind and spirit that repeats itself over and over again unabated. Religiously sanctioned violence is likewise a trauma experienced throughout the body, mind and spirit of an entire community including survivors, perpetrators and care-givers that replicates itself through the dynamics of identification, shame, blame, isolation and acting out often against one’s self.
Violence ultimately needs to be healed within as well as without or it will never end. Where do we, as people dedicated to ending the violence, begin the healing?
That’s the question that we of The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out, a unique, interfaith non-profit, were faced with as the women leaders of multiple faith traditions who make up half of The Advisory Council ask us to create a transformative program of healing designed to grapple with the women and girls devastated by religiously sanctioned violence in their various faith communities.
The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out has as its mission to bring people together to challenge assumptions, to unleash the Holy and affirm the faith that transforms the world. Nowhere is that mission more poignant than in the area of violence against women and girls. We fulfill it in part through large community programs carefully designed to provide transformative experiences for attendees and participants alike. These programs move beyond words, beyond talking about it, to including the strategic use of music, dance, ritual and liturgy to engage a deep connection to the Holy in one’s self and others. We differ from many other organizations in the great care we take to deliberately refrain from the use of polarizing or demonizing because it locks people into oppositional identities instead of allowing them to be whole individuals.
SAVING GRACE: A FAITHFUL Response to Violence against Women and Girls was developed by Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord and her team with the active input of all of our spiritual and religious women leaders and our award-winning film director. The major concern for this program (and any such effort involving abuse) was to find a way to move through the trauma without re-traumatizing the attendees.
We created an event that allowed attendees to experience themselves as part of a larger spiritual community that welcomed and supported them. Beautiful banners on the stage bearing the symbols of eight of the world’s great religious traditions visually proclaimed that every faith was included.
Indigenous dancers and drummers singing and bearing long white scarves were the shepherds and healers of the evening creating music that lifted the spirit and infused the body with the healthy heartbeat of life.
The welcome was broad, beautiful, gracious and inclusive. Five women spiritual leaders affirmed the sanctity of women and the feminine in their religious or spiritual teachings and then some pointed to the ways that those teachings have been distorted. The cognitive level was engaged.
The women’s voices were followed immediately by a two minute film entitled “Men of Faith Speak Out” where fathers across faith traditions said clearly that
“Violence against women is violence against Islam, … Judaism, …Christianity, …the Bah’ai Faith, … Hinduism, … Buddhism, … The Sikh religion teaches to honor all women… Jesus treated women with love and with grace…”
It had fathers teaching their sons to respect women. We created the film because we knew it was important to bring men into the program as a source of healing instead of harm but we needed to keep the physical space free of men so the women would feel safe. We needed to include men not polarize from them.
Two women draped in black shawls then came forward to speak telling their powerfully emotional stories of violence and abuse. They represented all the untold stories of those gathered and of the millions of women and girls around the world whose stories will never be told. The emotional level was fully engaged.
As the audience wept dancers and singers filled the stage engulfing the two storytellers in a dance of purification and healing. The gracefulness of their movements with flowers and words of healing washed over the two and everyone – men and women alike – who identified with them. Again the music and drumming moved through the bodies and spirits of all who were present.
Now the ritual deepened again. This was the moment when participants were invited to write out on a specially treated piece of paper whatever it was that they believed separated them from health and from the Holy within themselves. They were externalizing whatever it was that was keeping them from being healed and whole by writing it down. Again they were engaged physically and mentally and spiritually in releasing the trauma and their identity as a victim.
Then each person was invited to come forward to place the paper in a large cauldron releasing it to be consumed by fire. As they released their burden they were each wrapped in a beautiful white Pashmina scarf that had written on it: “I am a beloved child of the Holy–always.” One of the religious leaders wrapped them in the scarf with a blessing. The scarf served both as a transitional object and as a symbol of their new identity as survivor who had been reinstated as a child of the Holy.
Perpetrators and collaborators alike were addressed and confronted with the lies of twisting faith. “There is no justification for what you have done. NONE… Faith is not faith that injures. Faith helps. Faith heals.” They too were to invited to place into the fire that which separated them from the Holy.
Both men and women came forward to participate in these twin aspects of ritual thereby cementing a new community that was dedicated to ending the violence and bringing forth a new identity of respect for self and other.
The service ended with everyone wrapped in their scarf rising together to affirm their new identity and then follow the dancers out of the cathedral into the night singing and dancing in the open square.
Feedback from participants tells us that the rituals changed their lives, moved them in ways wonderful and unexpected.
Rituals do not have to be brought forward on this level to be helpful in the arena of violence against women and girls. Rituals have a place in all of our discussions and meetings as a way to engage healing at a level beyond words.