My name is Sumer Bingham Musick.
I am a mother, wife, professor, scholar, yoga teacher, and survivor of sexual abuse. As I have sought to make sense of this messy life, I have come to realize the spiritual depth that the wounds of violation inflicted. In the midst, I asked hard questions of God and discovered love in the most unexpected of places. My call in life is to help others do the same.
I grew up in Southeastern Kentucky, in the heart of Central Appalachia. I was a first generation college student and I pursued my education close to home. With the encouragement and support of my family, I attended the University of Pikeville (then, Pikeville College) from 2007-2011. I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Comparative Religion and Psychology.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse and grew up in an area steeped in addiction. As a result, I had many hard questions for and about God. The conservative religious framework of the mountains, however, taught that it was not acceptable to question God. It wasn't until my first college religion course that I discovered it was not only okay, but religious people have been doing it for centuries. And, shockingly enough, they have asked many of the same questions I was asking.
Why do bad things happen to good and innocent people?
Why do people do horrible things?
Where was/is God in the midst of violence, addiction, and abuse?
How can one trust and believe in a God that does not protect the innocent or answer prayers?
Immersing myself in the struggles and pains present in Old Testament stories started me on a path of spiritual self-discovery. Further courses in religion helped me understand that people across cultures and times have sought to understand suffering, and the role that a greater power might play in the human condition. My journey of spiritual flux led me to agnosticism, atheism, Buddhism, and eventually back to Christianity over the course of 10 years.
From undergrad to graduate school, I left the mountains of Appalachia and lived abroad. I discovered a passion for feminism, theology, and gentler ways of knowing God. Behind the scenes I continued to name and process traumas and think about my own social responsibility.
I completed my Master of Arts (2013) and Master of Philosophy (2018) at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. After much travel and forging friendships of a lifetime, I moved back home to teach at my alma mater. I earned my PhD in Practical Theology (2023) from Palm Beach Atlantic University. My research brought together the personal, spiritual, and academic. This, along with the kind and empowering people throughout my journey, has led to the discovery of my calling and voice.
Did you know that approximately 25-35% of women are sexually abused as children?
That's approximately 1 in 4 women in the grocery store checkout line, 1 in 4 women at the movie theatre, 1 in 4 women in the classroom, and 1 in 4 women in the church pews.
Did you know the person who sexually abuses a child is rarely a stranger?
77% of all sexual assaults involving a child occur in the home of the victim or perpetrator.
And did you know that 63% of women that are sexually abused by a family member experience other instances of sexual assault after the age of 14?
For many, these experiences remain shrouded in silence as survivors hold complex burdens of shame and guilt. It is a trauma that persists long after its initial occurrence and infiltrates the expanse of time. It is often repressed or ignored in the aftermath of subsequent traumas. Addiction, physical and mental illness, and relational difficulties are common.
The effects of sexual abuse live in the body, malforming one’s sense of self and convincing the person that they are inherently bad and shameful. The way in which one comes to know the self, God, and the self-in-relation-to-God is altered. Survivors must learn to live in bodies marked by violations that seemingly alter one's very being.
There is, however, hope. My work rests upon the firm beliefs that:
God is made known through the sexually abused body
Love can create safe space for healing
My research examines the spiritual wounds inflicted by experiences of sexual abuse and offers a theological paradigm for healing. The importance of creating trauma-informed worship spaces, the necessity of reflecting on movement patterns, and the obligation to thoughtfully reflect upon embodied ethics in society all contribute to the tapestry of my work.
While I have focused predominantly on child sexual violence up until this point, my research is ever-expanding. It is my goal to become continually more trauma-aware, to lift up the voices of those that have been silenced, and to help cultivate a community of survivor-leaders that can make the world a more gentle and compassionate place.
It is by creating safe communities and shining light on the dark lies of shame that healing is discovered. I am called to help individuals and communities discover the Good News of this love.
I am an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky. I teach a range of undergraduate courses including:
Ways of Understanding the Bible
Old Testament Introduction
New Testament Introduction
Women and the Bible
Bible and Trauma
Ways of Engaging Society
Religion and Popular Culture
Religion and Film
Ways of Being Religious
World's Great Living Religions
Buddhism and Meditation
My goal as an educator is not to simply help people discover career paths, but to encourage them to think deeply about what problems they want to solve in the world and determine what type of person they want to be. I teach all of my classes from a trauma-informed perspective and draw upon empathy-building pedagogies. I believe that education is not complete unless it includes the formation of virtues.
I am a registered 200 hour yoga teacher. For me, yoga is a form of embodied prayer. Coming to the mat each day is an opportunity to listen more intently to the body and respond with grace and compassion.
I take a trauma-informed approach to yoga and regularly teach Hatha and Yin classes.
In my personal practice I enjoy aerial yoga, hot yoga, and restorative yoga.
Check out the "Embodiment" section of this website to learn more.
Doctor of Philosophy
Palm Beach Atlantic University
Dissertation: Made in God's Image: The Incest Survivor's Embodied Journey from Deicide to Resurrection
This research explores the spiritual wounds inflicted by experiences of child sexual abuse in the form of incest. The first half of the work outlines the context in which such abuse occurs and establishes the harm done to one's self-image and God image. The second half of the work brings these experiences into dialogue with Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Jesus's Passion, Death, and Resurrection operate as a paradigm for understanding and healing from child sexual abuse.
Master of Philosophy
Theology and Religious Studies
University of Bristol
Thesis: Illuminating Skellig Michael Spirituality: A Study of the 7th-century Monastic Site Utilizing Analogous Sources
This research degree focused on Skellig Michael Island, a 7th century monastic site located off the coast of County Kerry. Utilizing archaeological reports, Brehon Law, and analogous monastic sources, this research illuminated the spirituality of the monastics who inhabited Skellig Michael and emphasized its relevance to the modern age.
Master of Arts
Theology and Religious Studies
University of Bristol, United Kingdom
This degree program included foundational courses in Christian theology as well as foundational courses in Buddhist studies. Academic and Mystical Approaches to God, the Beguines, and History of Christianity: Core Texts were coupled with The Foundations of Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Theravada Buddhism
Methods of comparative religious studies were merged with transpersonal and Jungian psychology.
Key Religious Studies courses included: World's Great Living Religions, Spirituality in the World Religions, Religions of Asia, Old and New Testament, Apocalyptic Literature, and others.
Key Psychology courses included: Abnormal Psychology, History and Systems of Psychology, Lifespan Development, Dreams into Consciousness, Psychology of War, Psychology of Personality, and others.
Bachelor of Arts
Comparative Religion and Psychology
University of Pikeville, Kentucky
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- Be Still and Know
Anxiety creates a certain amount of chaotic movement. I've found that even when I'm sitting still, every molecule in my body can shake with nervousness. Fear can fizzle through every pore, leaving me to feel as if I'm attempting to crawl out of my own skin. Breathing can hitch, the heart rate can accelerate, the body can be readied for fight or flight.. all while I smile politely on the surface. In a nutshell... Anxiety sucks. This is why, in graduate school, I became interested in mindfulness practices. I could no longer tolerate the fearful feeling that seemed to control my life. Every decision I made, every conversation I had, every moment of joy could not be destroyed by this awful feeling of chaos any more. Something had to be done. So, I studied. I read about Buddhism and contemplative Christianity. I listened to Cynthia Bourgeault and read the works of Thich Nhat Hanh. I played around with sand mandalas and singing bowls and prayer beads. I sang the psalms during compline and I learned about the 12 steps and I listened to audiobooks about prayer. I willed all of this knowledge to change my life. In many ways, it did. Unfortunately, I found myself faced with the reality that despite years of study, I had not found the crux of the problem. Something was lacking. My body still felt chaotic. And that's when I realized, that's it! The body! I had not truly practiced embodiment. My knowledge was head knowledge. I had somehow not made the connection between my body and the role that it plays in my understanding of God. I was studying mindfulness without being truly mindful of my body. I wondered how the great spiritual practitioners of history cultivated the discipline to sit? To observe? To listen and pray? Surely, I thought, I could find a method that worked for me. Reluctant as I was to become another bougie, western, white girl to practice yoga, I decided to give it a shot. I committed to studying the teachings as much, if not more than, the movement itself. It was, admittedly, a rough start with a lot of stops. Movement brought up anxiety and rage and all sorts of emotions that I had labelled yucky. The Yamas and Niyamas (the ethical principles of yoga) confronted some uncomfortable ideas I had about myself and the world. The discipline of a daily practice was shaky. I reminded myself to “be still and know” as I forced myself onto the mat for 15 minutes every day. What was my body trying to say when I found myself anxious during a yogi squat (malasana)? Why did resting in mountain pose (tadasana) feel so scary to me? Why did five-pointed star pose (utthita tadasana) eventually make me smile? I had spent more years than not being sexually abused. My body was a war zone even long after the violation had ended. Yoga became a form of prayer that helped me re-establish my body as a safe space. My daily practice became the highlight of my day. I learned to weather and release the anxiety from a yogi squat (malasana) and I began to connect with the roots of my sexuality. Mountain pose (tadasana) grounded me in strength. I am here, dammit, and I will not be moved. Five-pointed star (utthita tadasana) celebrated the accomplishment of taking up space. And in each pose... A reminder to return to the breath. Inhale. Be still. Exhale. And Know. Be still and know commitment and discipline. Be still and know that whatever arises now cannot harm you. Be still and know that the body holds wisdom alongside pain. Be still and know that there is dormant power waiting to be reclaimed. Be still and know that the calm waters of peace are unmoved by the surface level storm. Be still and know the present moment. Be still and know love. Be still and know God.
- Creative or Traumatic Tension? The Potential within Practical & Ordinary Theologies
Defining the Practical and the Ordinary Practical Theology is the academic discipline of theology. It examines and reflects on religious praxis in an attempt to mediate theological theory and practice in society (Latini, Heitink). It is capable of, and at times perpetrates, violence on ordinary theology. Ordinary theology by definition is "the theology and theologizing of Christians who have received little or no theological education of a scholarly, academic, or systematic kind” (Astley). Practical theology's academic exploration of theory-laden practices can, and do, assault ordinary people's theology. One only has to look to the clergy paradigm, or church abuses, to see a vulgar dynamic of practical theology in motion. This dynamic is not emerging. It is clear. People claiming to be professional Christians have hurt and severely injured others. Power Dynamics Practical theology holds a position of power. It is an entry point to the whole theological enterprise. It has the power of authority and performance. Despite this power, practical theology could not exist without average, ordinary people and the theology that emerges from the ordinary lived experience. Ordinary theologies are like questions that come before the answers. Ordinary people form ideas before, and as, they perform services. Ordinary theology comes before the "superiority" of practical theology. Ordinary theology is akin to metaphorical baptismal waters that practical theology faithfully turns into wine. ...And the Lord knows that many outpourings of abuse are fueled by alcohol. Given such abuses, the wisdom of exploring an intersection, much less a union between practical and ordinary theology is questionable. In light of church abuses and religious traumas, can the wounds between the ordinary and the professional be healed? Ordinary theology is nearly sufficient on its own and the exploits of practical theology are real. The pain is often acutely performed. A Reverence for the Ordinary Practical theology needs to love and amend with ordinary theology. There is a call to love, nurture, and help grow the practices of the marginalized and the ordinary. There is a demand to critically reflect upon lived experience. There is an opportunity to embrace the ordinary experience of God. For example, who can theologize about trauma in an academic setting? Who can reflect and revise worship practices to be more inclusive and aware of suffering? It is often the practical theologian that must care for and create safe space for victims in real and practical ways. In most cases, ordinary theology has no similar obligation to practical theology. By definition, ordinary theology happens naturally. At best, ordinary theology is invited to respect the pivotal ethic of practical theology. At worst, it is imposed upon by practical theology and subject to abuses of the Church. It is often disciplining and controlling. It often takes a creator to reveal a re-creation. Ordinary theology is revealed, over and over again, to be the creator of practical theology. This is the scandalous truth of incarnation within theology. As Jesus states that he is "the way, the truth, and the life," he simultaneously eats with the average people, heals the ordinary blind man, and forgives the common sinner. Practical theology, when done correctly, is pivotal. Beginning with experience, it seeks to meet the needs of the community in ever-more effective ways. It is itself transformed in the process of turning ever-more-closely to God. Questions of praxis and practice emerge and re-emerge to meet the needs and demands of the age. Practical theology facilitates the transformation toward a kingdom ethic as it embraces methods of growth. In collaboration with ordinary theology, this transformation and growth can be miraculous. This relationship can succeed if proper respect and nurturing space is given to the ordinary and if the ordinary can realize the pivotal ethic inherent in practical theological work. Practical theology can witness this miracle, but it cannot call for it. Ordinary theology can imagine this miracle, but it cannot perform it. Rev. Spencer Potter is a practical theologian who is currently listening to the ordinary wedding practices of those in the Episcopal church. He is a priest at St Andrew's, a multicultural multigenerational Episcopal church in the suburbs of Miami, FL. He is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. candidate at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is married to Erin and together they have one son, Riley. Spencer enjoys walking to the ocean, road trips, and catching the occasional Montreal Canadiens hockey game or concert.
- Questions for God: The Intersection of Faith & Trauma
In theology, trauma has been defined as an ongoing death, a fragmentation of the soul, and an overwhelming affliction of the powerless. The post-traumatic response paralyzes, confuses, and disrupts the linear flow of time. It creates a wound that has the capacity to infiltrate one's body, mind, and soul as it ruptures one's sense of safety and innocence. As one's very being is threatened questions intersecting faith and trauma emerge. This blog is dedicated to identifying, exploring, and giving voice to those "God questions." Trauma: common, all-consuming, and complex Complex trauma is exposure to multiple traumatic events over a long period of time. The traumas may occur over the course of months or years and render one powerless and fearful. Because the trauma is ongoing, one is not able to "rest and digest" traumatic experiences. The threat is continual and one learns to live in a heightened state of alert. Some examples of complex trauma include: child sexual abuse, childhood abuse and neglect, domestic violence, or war. Some types of complex trauma, like sexual abuse, violate the body in indescribable ways. Not only can the victim not escape the unsafe environment, but the very body itself becomes the crime scene. Invisibly written beneath the skin are the lies and violations of abusers. Safety cannot be found even in one's own body. Relationships can be tainted by mistrust and fear, one's body becomes a site of oppression, the post-traumatic response can bring about anxiety and dissociative episodes, and one's sense of self becomes distorted. Complex trauma, then, can impact one's social, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. What kind of God Questions? Oftentimes, survivors of complex trauma cannot remember a life not dictated by survival. Relationships, belonging, identity, and even one's understanding of how the world works is shaped by the complicated traumatic experience. For many, this leads to equally difficult and complicated questions about God. Here are but a few: Why did this happen? Where was/is God? Why didn't God answer my prayers or keep me safe? Did I deserve this? Why does my abuser seem to have a stronger connection with God than me? What does this say about who God is? Can I trust God? Myself? Others? Does God even exist? What type of wound did this trauma inflict and how can I heal? A Community of Support This blog is a safe space to explore questions like these. Made up of posts by survivors, mental health workers, pastors, friends, and theologians, Faith and Trauma is intended to be an ever-growing community of support. It is a place for people that are familiar with complex trauma to converge. Want to share your reflections and discover your voice? Subscribe and leave a comment.