Me Too: Wounds of the Spirit, Scars of the Soul

95CD73CB-3B8E-44AB-B1F4-4057D76D838FFor weeks now, women have been making heart-rending declarations β€” β€œMe too,” they cry, as they reveal their experiences of past sexual abuse. As for me,Β I say, β€œme too.” Add my name to the mournful list of women who have endured the pain of sexual trauma.

I was sexually abused literally dozens of times, by many men. The abuse began when I was about four years old and continued throughout my years as a young child. Sexual abuse did not stop through my teenage years. And even as an adult I faced sexual violation. Never, not one time, was it consensual.

Questions always bombard sexual abuse victims:

Who was the man who sexually abused you?

It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t believe me. You would refuse to believe that I was sexually abused by more than one teacher, by a coach, by a Baptist deacon, by a Baptist missionary, by an employer, by my father and several of his poker playing friends. You wouldn’t believe it because you know them to be β€œmoral, upstanding men” who are a part of your community.

Why didn’t you tell anyone?

I did tell. I told many people about every act of sexual abuse I endured, naming every man who hurt me. But I knew all the while that people simply would not take my accusations seriously.

Didn’t you believe that telling might have brought these men to justice and have prevented them from abusing other children?

No, I did not believe those men who caused me suchbdeep hurt would ever face the consequences of their crimes, because most of the people I did tell simply did not believe me. The men were known and respected and no one wanted to challenge that.

Why did you wait so many years to tell?

There are several aspects to this question. First of all, as I said, I did tell certain people who didn’t believe me. Not being believed serves to silence a victim who just doesn’t want to be labeled a liar, an attention seeker, a trouble maker, or worse, an emotionally unstable person.

Secondly, and most importantly, the passing years never take away the pain for someone who has been sexually violated. Sexual abuse is something you never forget. After 55 years, I still remember the time of day, being called into the teacher’s office next door to the classroom, the way he smelled, everything he said and did, and exactly what I was wearing. He was a person I had looked up to and admired. But on that day, he inflicted a permanent wound of my spirit which would become a scar on my soul. Once again, I mourned the loss of my childhood, of the innocence of a young child.

In these days, newsfeeds are constantly reporting the allegations of victims coming forward to say β€œme too.” Β The women have named their abusers β€” Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, George H. W. Bush. Ben Affleck, Roger Ailes, Lockhart Steele, Michael Oreskes, Mark Halperin, John Besh. Roy Price, Chris Savino, and the list goes on to name perpetrators in present time and perpetrators from the past. I do not say this lightly, but I have wondered just how many men might be holding their breath, hoping beyond hope that their victim(s) won’t expose them.

Wounds of my my spirit, scars of my soul

The unspeakable wounds heal in time, but the soul’s scars remain. And every reminder through these many years β€” a smell, a memory, a color, a song, and the cries of the women who are saying β€œme too” and telling the stories of their abuse. All of these are triggers that bring back the sharp, stabbing pain of the old wounds from long past. That’s what I have lived with throughout my entire lifeβ€” multiple assaults, multiple times, multiple men.

We can come forth and tell our stories. We can give voice to our spirit’s wounds, no matter how far in the past they may be. We can speak of our soul’s scars. But the reality is that we will be judged as women who have fabricated a false story of sexual abuse for some sort of personal gain.

How dare we ask why a woman would wait forty years to bring light to this kind of story! For since the day it happened, she lives with vivid memories, feelings of shame, fear of relationships, the disappointment of betrayal by someone she may have admired. There is a catch in her throat when she speaks of it, and there are tears, lots of tears along the way.

Wounds of the spirit, Scars of the soul

The writing of Saint Francis de Sales describes the depth of this kind of pain with this thought:

The soul is aware of the delicate wound . . . as though it were a sharp point in the substance of the spirit, in the heart of the pierced soul . . . This intimate point of the wound . . . seems to make its mark in the middle of the heart of the spirit, there where the soul experiences . . . feels.

– Living Flame of Love 2.1

So is it any wonder that this kind of wound would leave a permanent scar on the soul?

I am deeply saddened, but also gratified, that so many women are speaking out. I hope beyond hope that their courageous stories will give light to a dark, dark sin that has destroyed so many people for so many years. I pray that we will have the moral, ethical, spiritual and political will to crush the societal culture of abuse and violence and in its place create safe spaces free of fear for every person, every child, every young girl, every woman.

At times, I really want to expose every single man that abused me. But I want peace more. I want a serene spirit and a quiet soul. I want to rest in a prayerful place where my heart can call out to a God that desires for us a world of peace, communities of care, homes that are havens of safety. I want to see God ennoble people of faith to wrap their arms around the hurts, pray for God’s light to dispel the darkness, and live out their sacred calling to be agents of a better, more excellent way. May God make it so.

 

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Seeing the World, Loving the Earth

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“The Earth is not barren, but alive!”

I don’t see it much. There is an enormous, beautiful world that I simply don’t take time to see. I admire those who take nature into their souls, who breathe in the freshness of the wind, who see pictures in the sky, who hear music in birdsong. I imagine that those who know how to do that are emotionally and spiritually healthy. I imagine that life for them is pure joy.

The closest I can get to their experience is to read about it, and then to practice it in the smallest ways. I love the words of Bishop Steven Charleston that describe such a love for the earth.

I looked up, and as if in a dream I saw them, ancient spirits from the mesas, gliding on rain clouds above the desert, flashing lightning as they passed, primal spirits from the forest deep, rising up to dance on the trees, mountain spirits trailing snow white capes in the wind, and the spirits of the sea, moving like a storm toward the land. The Earth is not barren, but alive, filled with the spirits of life, the forces of nature around us, old powers from the time of beginning. God is not constricted to our temple walls, but roams the wild places calling to all who will look up, see the dream, and follow.

“You Can’t Help Me”

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When I look back on my years of working with victims of violence, one young boy stands out. His story changed my life. I will never forget the day he said to me, “Why should I tell you anything? My dad would find out and things would be worse for me. You can’t help me.”

He was right. We couldn’t help him, in spite of our tireless efforts. No matter how we approached advocating for him in family court and with the Division of Children and Family Services, we failed. At times, we even made the situation worse. Eventually the corrupt family judge banned our staff from the courtroom.

I have included in this post a picture this child drew. It is heartbreaking to know that a child would be forced to live with an abusive father. But it happens every day in this country. According to one conservative estimate, more than 58,000 children per year are ordered by family courts in the United States into unsupervised contact with a physically or sexually abusive parent.

Do we have the moral and political will to do whatever it takes to protect vulnerable children? Can our communities and our faith communities find way to advocate for abused children? Can we help end this national shame and protect the children? God grant that we never hear the words, “You can’t help me.”

Failure to Protect

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Looking back on various dates leads to nostalgia at best, horrific memories at worst. Almost exactly 53 years ago yesterday – on May 2 in 1963 – the Children’s Crusade began in Birmingham, Ala. as thousands of school aged children marched to protest segregation and were met with hoses, attacked by police dogs, and jailed.

It’s a scene we can hardly imagine today, and yet there are so many ways even in 2016 that we fail to protect our children. There should be no child in America going to bed hungry. No child in this country should have to sleep in alcoves on city streets. Children should not be victims of trafficking. Children should not have access to weapons and drugs. Children should not be used as pawns between warring parents. Children should not be victims of court-ordered abuse. Children should not be continually surrounded by violence. Children should not be incarcerated, rather they should be offered restorative justice. Children should not be physically, emotionally, spiritually, educationally or sexually abused.

Children should live in loving, nurturing families. They should attend clean, safe schools where they can get a quality education. They should have health care and mental health services.
They should be a part of caring, protective communities.

Shame on us if we fail to protect every child.
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. NRSV