Monday, November 11, 2013


During my time on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, I've befriended several artistic women who have made notable contributions to the writing and art world and who explore connections between art and spirituality. I've written about Sewaneean Barbara Hughes and her work teaching art to children in Haiti, as well as her work with the women of Tanzania in previous blogs, but today I'm looking at her beautiful new book entitled Enfolded in Silence, subtitled A Story in Art of Healing From Sexual Trauma in Childhood, and am moved to write a few lines about Hughes' personal journey through this painful experience of childhood molestation.

Hughes' long journey from childhood sexual trauma to healing is traced through poetry, prose, and graphic paintings that illustrate the powerlessness and guilt she experienced for years following molestation by a predator. The exalting aspect of this narrative is Hughes' triumph over this trauma and her healing through spiritual grace that returns her to personal wholeness.

In the second section of her book, Hughes shifts the emphasis from personal confession to a helpful plan for survival that includes journaling, praying, 12-Step Recovery, and Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder strategies, but it is through art that she achieves wholeness. The paintings, some of which are accompanied by raw poems that howl with her suffering, tell about her odyssey in passionate images that no candid written confession could achieve. When Hughes began to rethink and re-image her sexuality, she used the medium of art, making collages of positive images of sexuality and putting them in a safe place. She discovered other pictures that connected sex with love and tenderness and placed them where she could view them often.

A special section highlighting recovery from addiction will be helpful to those who attempt to cope with sexual abuse by overeating, overworking, and other forms of addiction. Her work with therapy and 12-step recovery is a testament to the power of 12-step groups — in her case, her involvement in this program gave her time "to mourn the loss of the comfort addiction had given me and to become entirely ready to let it go." Combined with therapy, Hughes began to heal and to emerge from denial, and she confesses to a "long slow struggle," witnessing to a recovery that "feels like a miracle every day."

This is a rich narrative of a personal transformation that Hughes decided to share with all women who have survived childhood sexual trauma, and the book is only one of the ways in which she supports individuals who have been abused in this way. She writes that those who have been abused seem to find their way to her, and she also leads workshops, retreats, and support groups using art for women survivors of sexual abuse in her studio, Rahamim Retreat and Clay House, and for churches and other centers of healing. In addition, she does spiritual direction using art and touts it as a "powerful force for healing in the world."

Hughes has taught art and spirituality at the Episcopal Seminary, University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee for many years and teaches in Tanzania when the opportunity arises. She has exhibited her sculptures and paintings throughout the U.S., and her Cathedral Nativity is the official crèche of the Washington National Cathedral. She is married to The Rev. Bob Hughes, an Episcopal priest and retired professor of theology at the Episcopal Seminary, University of South, who has authored the definitive book on the Holy Spirit entitled Beloved Dust.

Enfolded in Silence is a tragic story, but it is a redemptive one that inspires victims who have suffered childhood sexual trauma and those who work toward the goal of healing abused women throughout the world.

Enfolded in Silence includes a cogent foreword written by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana

Order from Border Press, P.O Box 3124, Sewanee, Tennessee or

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