Moving from Religious Trauma into Soul Healing, Part III: Beauty

Never lose an opportunity of seeing something beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.     

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


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Beauty is the basis of my spiritual discovery process.

I found the Anglican church on a trip to England, back in ’07, a time of big transition. My then six-year-old and I visited St. Martin in the Field and read the names of long-ago ancestors on placards in the narthex. We toured medieval graveyards. We toured Ely Cathedral, with origins around AD 672, home to St. Catherine’s Chapel, a stained glass museum, and towers reaching some 215 feet. We stared up at the ceilings, decorated in ancient paintings of the ancestry of Jesus, and felt our simultaneous smallness and our connection to all that has ever been.

Back in the states, I wandered into a small Episcopal church and heard Bach and a homily delivered in Latin and German. The smell of incense wafted by as people knelt on prayer benches. Ministers, dressed in robes, gave communion at a carved altar while someone played Mendelssohn on a massive pipe organ.

For a girl coming out of the cult of fundamentalism, with its stripped-out, prefabricated buildings and its scorn for arches and sculptures, and organs, the beauty of this new place called to me.

I was that girl in the Church of Christ, but my parents were strings players. Nobody could fool me into thinking that marble statues or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus were evil. I already knew that truth lived at the symphony – just as truth lives in the inherent beauty of the universe. I knew better.

Beauty saved my life. It gave me a reason to keep moving forward when I was surrounded by people who taught suppression and denial of the self. When I felt trapped in that cultural prison, believing I was worthless if not married by the age of 23, I could always plug into music as a meditation, and reconnect to universal love.

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Beauty = Truth = Innate Knowing

We all know beauty makes life worth living. The wonder we have watching the sun rise: this is truth. The goosebumps we get listening to a choir of children’s voices: this is truth. Sometimes I see intricate floral masterpieces rendered in tattoo ink and realize: this is truth. Not just formal works of art, but the arrangement of grasses in my neighbor’s xeriscape. We all seek this kind of truth, and we can trust it.

What causes me to experience beauty is an innate knowing of the right direction for me at a given moment . . . which may differ from the right direction of my friends or family. The beauty experience whispers the next right thing.  More like this . . . More of this . . . Keep reaching for this . . .

If I listen to the voice of beauty and follow it, I always find something I needed. I’m learning to trust this inner wisdom. When I do this, I reach for the divine.

Here are some things to consider in your own search for beauty.

  1. Your immediate environment: How pleasing is it to the eye?
  2. The sounds in your space: Do they bring you joy?
  3. How often do you let yourself absorb art of any kind?
  4. How lovely are the words you read or hear or write?
  5. How often do you absorb the natural environment (sights, sounds, smells, textures)?
  6. What do you do to create beauty?
Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

Why do I want this? Skip resolutions and Go Deep instead.

My Bodysmith friends and I have been asking ourselves: Do we even want to make resolutions for 2017? Does it make sense to replay the same self-assignments, year after year? The question makes sense if you think about how New Year’s resolutions have evolved over time. From ancient Babylonia to our present civilization, people tend to declare something anew at the beginning of the year.

But that new something keeps morphing as our worldview shifts over time . . .

When resolutions began, thousands of years ago, we reminded ourselves to pay off debts and keep the gods happy. If the gods were happy, the world ran smoothly. As society became more military, we pledged allegiance to a king as we prepared for the next round of battles.

At some point in modern history, our focus shifted inward, to self-improvement. We set goals to make us more physically, spiritually, financially, or mentally fit: give up sugar, pay off credit cards, start a running program, go to bed earlier, stop smoking . . .

But just a relative few years into the new millennium, people trend toward making no resolution at all. Why is that?

Why we’ve stopped making resolutions.

Yes, we still care about being in shape, taking care of our bodymind, but we see more deeply into that goal set than we once did . . . or we want to. We know more about our brothers and sisters living in poverty at home and abroad. Our resolutions start to look shallow in relation to the refugee crisis or human traffiking.

the bigger picture of our new year's resolutions

from “Borders,”

A question emerges – and I hear this question between the lines of every therapy conversation. Why do I want that? Why do I want to make more money? What makes me want to be thinner, calmer, and stronger? What drives me to want better concentration? Why do I care to read more books? Watch less TV? Spend more time in quietude?

Does it even matter? We glimpse a bigger and more complicated picture than just our own personal fulfillment. We see how we are connected to every living creature. We sense a deeper spiritual meaning in our quest for a smaller waist and we want to understand why we put so much energy there. Who am I? What’s this part of me that needs to be more solvent, improve my marriage, and give more to charity? What’s this part of me that needs to fit into my skinny jeans?

To see if a new awareness could be happening to you, try this exercise.

  1. Get your notebook, a timer, and pen. Light a candle. Get some tea. Write this question: What do I want? Try not to judge your answers. Just write them down. Make a list.
  2. Take several deep breaths and then write this question: Why do I want that? Pick an item from #1.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes. Answer the why question. Keep your pen moving on the page without stopping, for the entire ten minutes. Repeat for each item on your list, or if they fit together, write about them as a set.

Talk to someone about this exercise and what you learned. You may suddenly see more deeply into your motives and needs. This deeper vision of your why is a way more powerful motivator than a simple list of resolutions. Your why is what your higher self knows you need to help you continue growing, becoming a better person, becoming all you can be, all you were meant to be. Return to this page anytime you need to remind yourself why you do what you do and see if it helps you get motivated to action.

P.S. My resolution is this: Protect myself from things and people that drain off my creative energy (more on this later).

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15 Signs of Religious Abuse: Toxic Faith, Part I


How do I know if I’m in an abusive church?

Religious abuse keeps us quiet because of the beliefs that support it. In fact, if you have difficulty with your faith tradition or your church, you probably think it’s YOU with the problem – not the spiritual guidance you’re receiving.

I felt invisible, stupid, and scared as a girl in the Church of Christ.

My autobiographical novel, Wife Material, deals with the

crazy-making and gaslighting of spiritual abuse.

A person’s faith or religious community should make them calmer, wiser, and more connected (to their higher power and the people in their life). This short list of problems might help you determine if your religion could be having the opposite effect, making you sick instead of whole. The following apply just as easily to synagogue, mosque, prayer group, or drumming circle.


You might be experiencing religious abuse if . . .

  1. You feel worse about yourself after being at services.
  2. You have doubts or diverging opinions but feel afraid to express them.
  3. The lead clergy person ignores you – or, puts a lot of social pressure on you.
  4. The leaders criticize or guilt-trip you.
  5. You feel invaded by the practices of worship (e.g., “Reach out and hug the person next to you!”).
  6. The doctrine requires you to cut ties with family or friends and make yourself more available to the group.
  7. One gender is given privilege over another.
  8. Certain racial or cultural groups are devalued or given privilege over others.
  9. Child corporal punishment is condoned or encouraged.
  10. Certain people’s voices or views are privileged, to the exclusion of others.
  11. Your sexuality is scrutinized or labeled “deviant.”
  12. You feel voiceless, unimportant, crazy, sinful, or ashamed in relation to the group.
  13. You’re told how you should think, feel, vote, or handle your personal life.
  14. You’re continually asked to sacrifice your boundaries or self-care to further the agenda of the group.
  15. You’re pressured to share more personal information with the group than you feel comfortable sharing.

Consider writing down your reactions to this post. Also, Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book, Release, is a gentle starting guide for moving out of the dis-empowerment of religious wounding and into spiritual healing. I’ll be back soon with more signs and an exercise to clarify your basic faith from the toxic religion you’ve learned.

Read Wife Material

On Turning 50: What Matters Now?


My husband keeps asking how I want to celebrate my dreaded 50th birthday. He means well. But nothing sounds quite right. Continue reading

Disconnection & Depression in the Wider World


What does it mean to be “disconnected”?

Maybe you see the title of this article and you get the spiritual meaning, before reading another line. Yes, I feel disconnected: from my kids, my partner, my neighbors. Detachments and interruptions make us lonely and depressed. They steal our natural zest for learning and experiencing. And depression closes us into our smallest and least hopeful spaces.

But depression and disconnection occur on multiple levels throughout our world – in ways you may not have considered:

  1. interpersonal (between us and other people  . . . even our dogs),
  2. intrapersonal (disconnection from our true selves – real feelings and desires and opinions, our bodies’ true cravings for nutrients, movement, and rest),
  3. environmental (between us and the earth or even our home or backyard), and
  4.  spiritual (between us and our higher power).

We create artificial separation from important people in our lives – in order to maintain our sense of safety (“If I pretend his drinking doesn’t bother me, he won’t get angry with me.”). We cut off connections with our inner selves by ignoring our gut instincts, our needs for rest and closeness. We withdraw from Mother Earth and look the other way as she is raped and pillaged by human practices. And we stop the flow of spiritual energy in and around us by working too much, resting too little, ignoring urges to help others, and allowing anxiety to command our waking moments.

All this separation leads to profound depression.

Here’s a short list of signs you may be living a disconnected life.

  • You have trouble thinking of a person who knows your deepest wounds and imperfections and loves you anyway.
  • You avoid finding out where your recyclables go when they leave your bin.
  • You have no idea where your hamburger meat was raised or how.
  • You need a few drinks or a pile of ice cream or a few cigarettes to help you unwind after a long day.
  • You can’t remember the last time you sat quietly outside and listened to the crickets and frogs.
  • You avoid spiritual traditions because they’re fraught with hypocrisy, flawed people, and general weirdness.
  • You have trouble admitting when your feelings are hurt by someone you love.
  • You have trouble putting words to your emotions. If asked, you mostly say, “I’m frustrated.”
  • You have no idea where “palm fruit oil” comes from.
  • You believe your anger is a waste of time.
  • You think it’s up to the government to monitor our use of the environment (e.g., fracking, deforestation, waste disposal).
  • You have trouble taking a deep breath.
  • You feel vaguely guilty or worried about something, but can’t specify what.
  • You back away from civic and political engagement because you have no time to help kids, educate the community, or improve the environment where you live.
  • You feel burned out and bored with your life – trapped in a job or relationship that doesn’t meet your needs for creativity, closeness, and spontaneity.

What to do about it? Just Notice.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve taken a first step toward reconnecting your life – allowing the natural links between you and your environment to show up in your consciousness. We are all connected to every other being in our surround. But we deny this out of deep societal conditioning.

Now, just notice . . .

Notice the mysteries of what goes into your body; this starts a process of inquiry, even if it’s just reading grocery labels.

Notice your relationship with your pets; this opens a new awareness of how your moods affect them and how their natural play helps you relax.

Notice how you pull away from closeness with your partner; this begins a subtle change process that could lead the two of you into deeper conversation.

Notice the similarities between an oak leaf and the palm of your hand; this starts a re-valuing process that can draw you into greater awareness of – and closeness to – all things good and beautiful.

Life-Writing: Pain Into Art



How to Write about your Life and recover from Trauma

We all experience trauma: Big T and little t and all-points-in-between trauma. Relationships end. We fail at things. People die. We meet more people. Lessons get learned. And each life holds a unique story that could be a page-turner if mined deeply. We can write our troubles into beautiful prose if we choose.

Why bother? Some of you already love writing. It helps you take unformed thoughts and press them into beautiful sculptures of depth and meaning. Your childhood longings foreshadow your adult passions. Heartbreaks shed light on why you do what you do. Loose threads of confusing experience come together to form whole scenes with pattern and purpose.

For example, in my own Life-Writing, I discovered why the aesthetics of spirituality matter so much to me. Why I felt so drawn to the Church of England and the cathedral choir and the organ and the bells – and why I had always been such a snob about informal religious services and their repetitive songs and their rock bands and PowerPoint slides and impromptu speakers. This was not just Deborah’s shallow, judgmental side. It was me channeling my father’s complicated spirituality: both his yearning for depth and beauty – and his lifelong entrapment in fundamentalist religion.

And why not? I mean, it happened, right? The past is always going to be what it was. Not writing it serves no purpose. Not writing our lives only leaves the memories sitting in the proverbial attic gathering dust . . . when we could try on those old clothes, rifle through the trunks and scrapbooks of our earlier days and make new sense of them.

So, here’s how to start Life-Writing:

1. On notebook paper, make a list of important scenes from your life. Include the worst memories and the best. Leave space between each scene.

2. Cut your list, so that each scene is a small strip of paper.

3. Fold each scene strip several times and put all scenes together into a container with a lid. Shake the container. Set it aside. Take a nap.

4. Each morning, or each week, depending upon your writing schedule, remove a random strip from the container and write that scene as if you were writing a screenplay. Use as much sensory detail as possible.

After a few weeks, take a look at all your pages together. Do some more writing. Add scenes to your container as you think of them. Check your pages after a month.

What do you notice? Tell someone you trust – someone gentle and kind. If you have a favorite scene, allow that person to read it. Ask them to give you their honest reaction.

Set your scenes aside for a week and journal about them. Do they make you want to keep going? Do they inspire you to take a writing class, to refine your skills? Do they inspire you toward a goal? Just notice that.

And keep writing . . .