Category Archives: Spiritual abuse

The Lenten Writings: strong in the wind.

The Observer
by Rainer Maria Rilke

 

I can tell a storm by the way the trees are whipping, compared to when quiet, against my trembling windows, and
I hear from afar things whispering
I couldn’t bear hearing without a friend or love without a sister close by.

There moves the storm, the transforming one,
and runs through the woods and through the age, changing it all to look ageless and young:
the landscape appears like the verse of a psalm, so earnest, eternal, and strong.

How small is what we contend with and fight;
how great what contends with us;
if only we mirrored the moves of the things and acquiesced to the force of the storm, we, too, could be ageless and strong.

For what we can conquer is only the small, and winning itself turns us into dwarfs;
but the everlasting and truly important will never be conquered by us.
It is the angel who made himself known
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
for whenever he saw his opponents propose to test their iron-clad muscle strength,
he touched them like strings of an instrument and played their low-sounding chords.

Whoever submits to this angel, whoever refuses to fight the fight,
comes out walking straight and great and upright, and the hand once rigid and hard
shapes around as a gently curved guard.
No longer is winning a tempting bait.
One’s progress is to be conquered, instead, by the ever mightier one.

Source: “The Observer” from Pictures of God; Rilke’s Religious Poetry, translated by Annemarie Kidder.   Livonia, MI: First Page Publications, 2005. I am standing. I am feeling the movement of the wind of the spirit of God. I am standing. I am listening for the voice underneath. I am standing. I am speaking voiced truth.I am standing. I am keeping my eyes open, and asking for courage to see.I am standing.

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The Lenten Writings: a time to speak

“You can tell the people that if they proceed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully , they will realize that they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.

The church would betray its own love for Good and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being a defender of the rights of the poor, or a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society … that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history.

When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.” (The Church is the people by Oscar Romero).

There comes a time when to be silent is to participate in the violence, the hiddenness.

The wise man of old said the now famous words, “there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.”

There is a movement taking place.

We watched the #MeToo campaign sweep our news feeds last fall. It gave voice to women, and men, who had experienced sexual abuse. It was a conversation starter, naming sexual harassment and sexual verbal abuse for what it is; sexual abuse.

Someone started a #ChurchToo hashtag; and slowly, the silence is beginning to break. What about the Church and sexual abuse? The Catholics led the way, perhaps not by choice. But the Protestants, known historically for protesting injustice from within, have largely been silent.

And so now we see a movement sweeping the country #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. It started with a statement. It is continuing with story. #LentenLament gives voice to the grief, which is right and good.

When girls are not safe in their homes, when boys are not safe in their churches, when women think workplace abuse is “the way it is”, when men perpetrate rape culture….

It is time to lament.

How are you breaking the silence?

How might you be invited to share your story?

What codes of silence are still being kept in your circles?

In your faith community?

It is time to speak.

This is my story. In my home. In my faith community.

I am speaking out.

How about you?

The Lenten Writings: righteous indignation

Possible Answers to Prayer

“Your petitions—though they continue to bear

just the one signature—have been duly recorded.

Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent

entertainment value—nonetheless serve

to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath

a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more

conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,

the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes

recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly

righteous indignation toward the many

whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend

how near I am, with what fervor I adore

precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.”

What rouses your passion? Or maybe more accurately, your judgments? Do you have a favorite sin that you like to rant about? Or maybe a lifestyle choice or sexual orientation that really gets you going? Is it immigration status that riles you up? Politics? Vaccines? Home birth?

This prayer is hauntingly disturbing. It raises more questions than answers. In a time of Lent, where the focus is on self reflection and prayer; it points the finger back.

Sometimes in group work we play with the idea of a mirror. Another person’s actions of words trigger my opinions or judgments. Often, it is because he or she is a mirror to me. It is my imperfect self that I see in the other that gives me a rise, or provokes a strong reaction.

Before breakfast, we had a rousing conversation at our house. (That’s not the norm, in case you are wondering). My husband was telling the story of the woman caught in adultery. She was in the very act of it. No question. And Jesus pointed back. “Let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.” And then He just sits and starts playing in the dirt with a stick. When Jesus looks up, the air is still, no one is left. And then the words, gentle, perhaps with tears. “Neither do I condemn you… ”

This is a good place for me to sit today. And the lyrical storytelling that I heard it in this in this morning, three teenagers interrupting themselves to add details, made the story come alive.

Sometimes, I have a really hard time with the church. Not surprising, I suppose, as my wounds occurred within that context. And so, as I wrestle, I am brought back again and again to the words of Jesus. Not the church lens, thick like my grandmother’s glasses, through which I often see people.

No judgment.

I want to show up that way. Heart first, ready to listen, led by love. It’s in that space that real conversation starts.

And maybe in that place, I will begin to apprehend how very near the Presence is…

Scott Cairns, “Possible Answers to Prayer” from Philokalia: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Scott Cairns. Reprinted with the permission of Zoo Press.

Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems (Zoo Press, 2002)

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.

The Advent Writings: the candle of hope 

Hope is a fragile thing. 

I was asked by my counselor (who specializes in disruptive questions):  “Do you have hope?”  My knee jerk response was, “I don’t want to jinx it.”  I regretted that response. She pursued my heart in kind and bold ways, and I left that fall Phoenix day feeling small and very stirred. 

At every turn that week the word jumped out at me, inviting me farther in. Ericka shared at Neighborhood that week from this passage about the longings of immigrants: for something better, for a home, for a place to belong. 

 Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.  (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Other translations say that God was not ashamed to be called their God. The alien, the stranger in the land. The ones who never got what they hoped for. Not ashamed. 

One of those crazy passages on suffering that got a bit warped in my growing up years says something similar:

because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5). 

Hope. It doesn’t put me to shame. Shame I understand, the Journey Mate of a wounded child. Ca-Ching.  God is not ashamed. 

I got it. 

Hope has nothing to do with getting what I hope for. That’s a terrifying relief. Over and over as I wrestle I see two resting places.

       God is present. God is good. 

Nothing more. 

And these I know. I have walked the inky blackness of suffering. I have plumbed the depths of these words. 

Today we lit the light of the prophets, the candle of hope. 

So yes, to answer the question, 

I have hope. 

Not acting

“Acting is fun. Some people act at life; but life is not an act. You have to show up real.”

My kid quote of the week. How many grownups know this? 

I acted in my first play in high school, my junior year, age 15.  I think it was maybe seven brides and seven brothers;  but I have a few high school people who would know. Anyway, I remember we were supposed to dance… only it was a Christian school. So they called it choreography and it was OK. I loved the swirling skirts. 

I loved acting. I loved the dressing up. I was really shy, and it gave me an opportunity to be someone else. But in real life, that was already a skill that was well honed.

In a “Ministry” household, we learned young to always be perfect. I know this pressure is common to all preachers kids and missionary kids (pk’s and mk’s).  Some respond like I did, and learn to be very very good. Some go the other way. 

In my house, there was another layer to it. What was shown publicly was not real life at our home. There were so many layers of contradictions, and hiddenness. It has taken decades, and lots of counseling, to begin to make sense of that.

And so I learned young to change my face. I actually remember one instance in particular:  a finger snap when I was crying, and immediately holding out my hand and putting a smile on my face to shake hands with the parishioners.  We extended “the right hand of fellowship.”
Old habits die hard. I am learning to show up real. That life is not an act. Sometimes there are situations that I don’t place myself in; so that I don’t default back. One step at a time, God is redeeming my story. 

I invite women to show up real. In groups, with my midwifery clients, with my kids. We use art, role-play, exercises, and sometimes a talking rock. I invite story. Because life is not an act.

You have to show up real. 

Precious Lord

I woke up with these lyrics woven vividly into a dream acompanied by the music itself:

Precious Lord, take my handLead me on, let me stand

I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn. 

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. 

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near

When my light is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. (Thomas A Dorsey)

I did some reading about the origin of this song today. The author was leading music when he received a telegram saying that his wife had died in childbirth. A week later, the baby died as well. Somewhere in the journey of his despair he sat at a piano and this heart cry poured out.

I also learned,  curiously, that Elvis made this song famous and also Mahalia Jackson. This was not something I knew as those singers were banned in my Baptist upbringing. When I hear this song I hear it in my grandmothers voice. 

My grandma was the song leader at Aurelius Road Church, in the Lansing/Holt area. She had a deep voice, unusual for a woman. As the story grows, or goes, she wore a peacock feather in her hat.  She was single in a day that was rare. She owned her own gift and Bible bookstore, and had a dry cleaning business. She had her secrets, which died with her.

I know that for me, as a child, my grandmother provided moments of safety. I had named her Meemie, early on. Supposedly, this was my childhood attempt to say pennies, and she always brought me plenty of those. So I would look at her purse In her photograph and say Meemie’s. (I will let you draw from that what you want to; it is not the point of the story). 

Meemie would come to see us on a big airplane, her floral suitcase bulging and held together with packing tape. When we opened it, it would be full of crackerjack prizes. No one ever pointed out where all those boxes of crackerjacks must’ve gone.

 I would lean my head against her fur collar as we came home from the airport,  trying to avoid the scratchy wool coat. It was cold, and it smelled like mothballs. I remember going to sleep with her sitting by my bed and singing the old songs, one after the other.

I felt safe those nights, and I think they were held safe by her presence. She represented moments of respite in a very confusing world.  

In later years, the tables turned. She had followed us to Arizona. I stayed to graduate with my class when my family moved to Canada. I was left with the car, weeks away from my 16th birthday. The agreement was that I would visit my grandmother once a week, and put $.10 a mile in a jar. I started out doing it out of compulsion. Very quickly, a deep friendship grew.

I would surprise her with Kentucky fried chicken and Mountain Dew. She would make waffles for dinner, and fill them with every mix in imaginable. I would bring my textbooks and study. And somewhere in the evening I would take out her old hymnal and sing. All the verses, one song after another. She would join in, her voice quivering.

There were many years where it was hard to sing those old songs as I wrestled with the reality of my childhood contradictions and violence. They are being redeemed one by one. The truth contained in the ancient words still calls to my spirit.

I walked the dark street tonight with my pug, singing this song. If the neighbors could hear, they might have wondered. They don’t know that a story continues to be written, co-authored by God. 

It is the story of an old woman and a little girl, a story of music in the night.

Good girls grow up

Good girls don’t…

How did the gender roles of your childhood fill in that blank?

In the circles of my childhood, girls were to be sweet and nice and silent.  

  

There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.  And when she was good she was very, very good. And when she was bad she was horrid. 

My dad would trace an imaginary curl on my forehead as he quoted that. It always have me chills. 

The good girl of those years was not safe to speak up. But good girls grow up. Some stay sweet and nice and silent. They fill church pews and PTA groups. 

But some girls find their voice. 

There is a time to be silent and a time  to speak. (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

A woman who has found her voice is beautiful and strong. She knows how to speak for those who have no voice. She calls out injustice. She cries out on behalf of the poor, the disenfranchised, the child without a home. 

This week, truth has asked me to stand up against embezzlement. It has asked me to name sexual harassment for what it is. It has caused me to fight for midwives being treated with respect by hospital colleagues. 

Wisdom cries out in the streets, she raises her voice in the public squares. (Proverbs 1:20)

No poem can silence that voice. 

…a time to speak. 


Call it like it is…

When do we begin to name what is?  So many places in our culture have a different set of rules. Let the phrases trickle through your mind that you have heard over the years:  that’s just how it is in medicine, that’s the job of the church, that’s how people talk in sports.

When do we begin to name what is? There are words for this: sexual harassment, spiritual abuse, bullying. It takes courage to use the names. It takes courage to call what I see in me what it is: Control, contempt, manipulation. I learned to call it by nicer names. Those names do not recognize the violence for what it is. Even when there are no words:  Silence can be violence as well.

It takes courage to name what is. Courage comes each day like Grace. It is not something that I have to drum up; it is given. 

Dare. Begin. Name. 

The Advent writings:  Voice.  Vox.  Voz.  

“To speak for those who have no voice…”

The phrase from one of my affirmations guides me.  

Silenced.  How was I silenced?  I asked God once.  Don’t ask those questions unless you want an answer.  

How were you silenced?  

If you sit in church (Big C Church) and look around, what do you see?  I wonder how many of those people singing have experienced some form of being silenced? 

Hymns are being redeemed one by one for me.  Tonight I was listening to “the advent project” and the meditation on Mary, her extraordinary question to the angel.  The music was an old hymn:  Take my voice and let me sing, always, only for my King.  Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee…”  (Frances Havergal)  I can still hear it with piano in the background, all five verses, part of the “invitation”.  

I hear it differently now.  My voice…

What happens when Jesus breaks silence?