I consider myself fortunate to live in a northern country where there are obvious changes in the seasons. We are in the midst of a glorious autumn in Fredericton – the leaves are a spectacular array of colours. The mornings are cold with just a touch of frost, the warmth of the afternoon sunshine is palpable, and the days are still long enough for spending time outdoors after work. Like many Canadians, I tend to notice seasonal change more in the fall because it marks the end of summer and the coming of winter. But changes in the natural world are constant and the evidence is all around me if I take the time to notice.
Relationships are also dynamic. Religious people believe that marriage is a sacred relationship – an earthly symbol of a Divine order. This order is the relationship between God and Creation. We know that the relationship between God and the Cosmos is evolving. As we become more aware of the complexity and expansion of reality, we have increased opportunities to know the many aspects of the Divine. For people of faith, marriage is a dynamic relationship which includes God, spouses and the community.
In families, individual and collective change are intertwined – a change in any aspect of the familial relationship has an influence on the whole. Healthy families require clear communication, honesty, and respect in order for trust to form in this dynamic system. Every relationship and every family go through times of joy and pain. This is reality. Just as we cannot stop seasonal changes, we cannot force individuals in the family to conform to our expectations. Being part of healthy relationships requires that all family members remain faithful to a loving covenant – a promise to be there through good times and the bad. But what does this mean in situations of family violence?
Healthy families are in right relationship – members hold one another accountable for speaking and acting respectfully and honestly. Individuals take responsibility for their words and behaviours and do not blame others as soon as they experience discomfort or things don’t go their way. Unhealthy relationships are marked by coercion and manipulation, unkindness, chaos, and sometimes physical and sexual violence. Spiritual abuse involves the interpretation of religious texts or beliefs in ways that justify abusive words and actions. Family violence has negative impacts on everyone in the family and those who perpetrate abuse are violating the marriage covenant. They must be held accountable for their failure to act respectfully and for breaking trust with those who love them.
Just as the beautiful leaves fall from the trees due to seasonal change, sometimes relationships must fall apart – relationships which once held the promise of love and fidelity yet were not fulfilled. The ending of a violent marriage honours the sacred relationship between a survivor and God, in whose likeness she and her children are created. This kind of change is not easy; it involves risk and requires support and understanding of the faith community. The RAVE online resources can help.
Catherine Holtmann, 21 October 2019