In my defense against an abusive God… what I forget and what I am learning By Sara Frykenberg


I spent a great deal of my life believing that the smaller and smaller I made myself, the bigger God would be in my life and the more power He (sic) would have to do the good things He had planned.  If I could just get out of the way… If I could resist my humanness… If I could be “alive to Him and dead to me,” as one of the songs we sang in my college church group reminded me.  I stopped believing this when I felt I had become so small and lost so much of myself that I couldn’t bear it anymore.

I don’t know how to explain it otherwise, but I had a physically violent reaction to any more of myself disappearing.  I yelled and snapped at people like a wounded animal; and when I reached out to members of my Bible study for help, I remember one woman suggesting that maybe demons were involved in some way.  I’m not sure if she thought I was being possessed or attacked, but I remember feeling like she hadn’t heard me at all.

I didn’t understand… excuse me, couldn’t understand why the God I was always taught to believe in, the God who was in control of everything and the God who purposefully made things the way they were, would plan for all the suffering and loss I saw around me—for the loss I was experiencing.  A man who is my ally and my spirit friend listened to me explain this feeling.  He then looked up at me and asked, “You think that God is abusive, don’t you?”  And I replied, “I guess I do.”

I remember the silence and quiet that I felt as this feeling surfaced inside me.  It still hurts sometimes to remember, though the realization helped me to end a long-term abusive relationship to this distorted and skewed image of God.  I no longer believe that god/dess is abusive.  I also know that the part of me that was already and has always been in relationship with the loving that is god/dess helped me to change my life.  That said, sometimes I feel like I have to fight to maintain my empowering and loving relationship with the divine.  The practice of a mutual relationship with god/dess feels like a conscious decision I make every day; and sometimes I forget.

Consciously I believe that god/dess works towards the greatest liveliness of all creatures; but I discovered last week, that unconscious parts of me are still mourning and living in relationship with the idea that the universe is ultimately disempowering.

I was talking with a friend of mine about Kundalini yogic philosophy and reincarnation when I made this realization.  Through a year of yoga teacher training, I harbored an active resistance to the idea of karma and reincarnation. The idea that a soul chooses its next life to learn something it missed was too often related to some notion of retributive justice.  You get (this), because you did (this) and your punishment will teach you something.  For example: you abused, so you will be abused.  I rejected and so, defended myself against this vision of the universe.

Protect—attack.  This is sometimes my version of “defense,” because I forget to be relational and to be creative in my work towards liveliness and mutuality.  Sometimes I have so many defenses set up against the threat of the abusive distortion of God, that I effectively try to protect myself from having to interact with god at all.

Where some of those who believe in reincarnation may see it in a more retributive way, there are also those who envision this cosmic relationship as entirely empowering.  My friend, who believes in reincarnation, explained to me that she thinks that when we choose a new life, perhaps, we choose a pattern of life that we can affect in a powerful way.  We choose a pattern we can shift or a place in the world where we can bring the most love—that we are not choosing a predetermined life and experience, but a place of potential.  The more I dialogue with this particular friend about power and philosophy, the more amazed and inspired I am by her ability to see the universe as empowering, loving and designed for creaturely flourishing.

I firmly believe that we must discuss and challenge those beliefs and practices that hurt liveliness and mutuality, as does my friend.  I know that it is important to expose those elements of religion or theology that are abusive.  What gave me pause in this particular conversation actually had nothing to do with reincarnation or the “rightness” of either of our views.  My friend who loves me deeply helped to show me where I was still conceptualizing and imaging power in terms of abuse just by talking to me about the possibility of non-abusive cosmological relationships.

I am learning that while some of my boundaries are healthy and necessary, some of my defenses prevent me from seeing important aspects of interrelationship and god/dess—some of my fear of an abusive God, keeps me tied to Him.  I am still in relationship with abuse.  But discovering one place where that relationship was still unconscious last week, bringing it to consciousness, I feel empowered to continue to change this relationship.  I feel encouraged, because this realization is evidence that I am doing work that challenges and transforms abuse in my life.

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Categories: Feminist Theology, Relationality, Women's Suffering

Tags: , , , ,

7 replies

  1. Sara, your post really resonated with me today, as many of my experiences in my “former theological self” have been similar. I too believe that wholeness needs to be brought to women, and especially women who are recovering from bad theology and the churches that promote it. It’s amazing that in the process, the people that push back from women claiming their independence from abusive relationships, are other women who seek to keep them in the cosmological abuse! I applaud you for bringing to light this issue!

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    • Thank you so much for your comment and encouragement! It is amazing and so sad when others push us towards abuse, particularly because it often means they too are constructing identity or faith in similar abusive terms! Double ouch! I am so grateful for those women and men who have helped me to uncover those places where this disconnecting paradigm persists in my life and to challenge it!
      I, like you, will keep working for wholeness in myself and with others!
      As my yogi teachers say,
      Sat Nam! (“Truth is my name, truth is my identity” … something I interpret as an affirmation that I am my whole and real self! :) )
      -Sara

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  2. Sara, Great post, I’ve lived it too, I love what you had to say. Glad to know you are well.

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  3. I can’t tell you how much your words affected me today because I relate to your experience so deeply.

    I find that even after so many years (14) of being with my Guru, a woman who has taught me of Divine Mother and the reality of matriarchal life and the integrated wholeness that we would experience through embracing the nurturance of god who is all-accepting, loving, not punishing or evoking fear, I still struggle not to react to life as if I still believe in the abusive father-god I grew up with. She teaches us that beliefs are rooted deeply in not only the psyche, but in the cellular consciousness, and it requires a great amount of effort and awareness to change belief at this level. She teaches that it comes from the bloodline consciousness and so by holding a new thought long enough for the cells to actually change, we are able to change our behavior. To think is to create, she teaches. The challenge for me has been to keep an attitude that allows me to hold thoughts of accepting nurturance as opposed to continuing to punish myself, abuse myself emotionally. She tells us that attitude is everything. I see it as a decision to value myself above the limitations of many lifetimes lived in the damaging belief system of an abusive, punishing god and sometimes that force gets the better of me but I persist because she has taught as any loving Mother does, the spiritual journey is a process and we must never give up, but give in, surrender.

    Thank you for your sincere openness. You lightened my heart today.

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  4. Dear Danu,
    Thank you so much for this message– what you’ve shared here has also lightened my heart– it gives me joy to hear how other women are healing and stepping out of abuse, and encourages me to keep, like you say, making the decision to value myself.

    I love the image you have given me of actually healing myself on a cellular level and will remember this!!! I too very very much believe in the physical nature of our spiritual and emotional wounds, and that healing must take place across all aspects of our wholeness! I discovered this very physical aspect of my spirit through my practice of Kundalini yoga — opening up in what at first seemed a purely physical way (which somehow seemed to me much safer at the time than my own thoughts), has had an amazing impact on healing my mind, body and spirit! It has also helped teach me to start to trust myself and god/dess again :)

    You have really touched my heart here, thank you.
    I am walking with you on this counter-abusive and creative path!!
    Sat Nam,
    Sara

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  5. Dear Sara,

    I am glad we connected. The understandings come from my Guru and the attempts to make change through them come from me. If you’d like to read more from her, you may want to see these links:
    http://prophet13.wordpress.com
    http://templeofbhaktiyoga.com/RelivantTruth.aspx http://truthbetoldtbt.blogspot.com/2009/03/acceptance-of-all.html http://drshubhranandaswami.com/default.aspx
    http://www.youtube.com/shubhranandaswami

    Shanti,

    Danu

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