Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reclaiming the Hidden Treasures: Day 19 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

As I was preparing and waiting for the Great Storm Sandy to have it's full impact on my Pennsylvania community, I was almost hoping to be forced into some Internet downtime so I could do a lot of reading, writing, and praying by candlelight. It didn't happen, and instead I remained glued to the computer screen throughout the day and into the night, devouring weather reports, satellite maps, and Facebook updates.

This morning I was surprised to find calmness outside my windows, and colder air both outside and in, so I drained the tub of cold water I'd filled yesterday afternoon, refilled the tub with hot water, and settled into it with the book I'd imagined devouring during the anticipated power outage.

My Peace I Give You, by Dawn Eden, is subtitled Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. In Amazon's description of the book, Dawn is described as "a Jewish-born rock journalist turned salty Christian blog queen." The word left out of that description is Catholic—Dawn Eden is a Catholic Christian, and My Peace I Give You is about the hope and healing she has received from the stories of more than a dozen saints—hope and healing from childhood sexual abuse, hope and healing that she wants to point her readers toward as well.

I'm familiar (and you probably are too) with some of the saints she discusses—St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Therese of Lisieux, Dorothy Day, and St. Thomas Aquinas—but at least half of them I'd not heard of before. The first of these, introduced in chapter one, is St. Josephine Bakhita.

The first canonized saint from Sudan was born in Darfur in about 1869, into a happy family with seven children (four girls, three boys). When she was seven, she was kidnapped by "two ugly armed strangers." From that point until she was thirteen, she was bought and sold several times as a slave. Each time she was put up for sale she was displayed naked, like an animal, to her potential buyers. During those years she was beaten and tattooed by her owners—and these tattoos were made not with ink but from cutting patterns into her body to create scars. She was given 114 of these when she was eleven.

When she was thirteen, she was sold to an Italian man to serve as his housekeeper. In his household she was, for the first time, not beaten and abused. Three years later he took her with him to Genoa, Italy, where later, when she was eighteen, he gave her to a woman named Maria, the wife of a fellow businessman. Several years later, Maria left her very young daughter and Bakhita at a home run by Canossian Sisters while she was away for a while with her husband. It was there that Bakhita met and fell in love with Jesus. When Maria returned to claim her, Bakhita chose to remain with the Sisters. She was soon baptized and confirmed and then received her first Communion. She eventually became a Canossian Sister herself.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote of Bakhita in his encyclical Spe Salvi, which means "saved by hope." As a slave, Bakhita was owned by a series of "masters," but in Jesus she "came to know a totally different kind of 'master." ...Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a [master] above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person ... that this Lord ... actually loved her.... She was known and loved and she was awaited." But even more than that, he wrote, this Master who loved her "had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged.... Now she had hope—no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope."

Eden weaves through Bakhita's story the parallel thread of her own experience of childhood abuse and its effects in her life. I was drawn to her book because I have a thread like that running through my own childhood. One of the elements of healing that Eden writes about is the need for "purification of memory." By this she means not forgetting the trauma but, rather, remembering the parts of childhood that "were not traumatic.... When we do this," she says, "we reclaim the hidden treasures that are rightfully ours."

For Eden, one of these treasures is her memory of celebrating Passover. The insight she has gained from remembering this experience in the light of her Catholic faith is the brightest light in this book for me so far. "In describing the Exodus," she writes,
"the Haggadah isn't just retelling a past event. It insists, again and again, that the Exodus is now. It isn't just about the deliverance of Jews thousands of years ago; it is about our own deliverance today.... Literally speaking, the Exodus was a historical event, tied forever to a particular time and place. Figuratively speaking, it is present now and ever will be, in all times and places, wherever the People of God are present 'to thank, to laud, to praise, to glorify' the One who redeemed us."
And this, for me, is the best part:
"That same timeless time that I contemplated with endless fascination—that is what I now contemplate in the Mass. I am not literally at the Incarnation, at Calvary, or at the empty tomb. Yet, as I kneel before the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, all those events are now before me."
So, just as the Passover celebrates both a remembered ancient deliverance and a present, personal deliverance, the Eucharist both remembers the death and resurrection of Christ and makes that death and resurrection our own by literally uniting us, body and blood, with the resurrected body and blood of Jesus.

What treasures await me in the rest of Eden's book? I can hardly wait to discover them!

Amen.

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