Saturday, November 10, 2012

Writing My Name a Hundred Times: Day 29 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"Pope Benedict points out that if we block out our memory we also can end up blocking out our identity so that we don't have any kind of solid base from which to grow.... I found my identity in God....

"Child sexual abuse is founded on lies. The abuser lies to the victim. Often more lies abound ... particularly if the abuse takes place in the family, if the victim is put under pressure not to be up front about what happened....

"There are saints who experienced ... sexual abuse and ... what they have in common is that it wasn't in spite of their wounds or in spite of the evil committed against them that they drew closer to Christ; it was actually through their own experience of woundedness that they drew closer to the wounded and resurrected Christ. So they show us the way.... They also show us how to stop feeling the misplaced guilt and misplaced shame that people feel about these things, 'cause children do tend to blame themselves for the evils committed against them."
—Dawn Eden, author of My Peace I Give You, on Christopher Closeup

On one of the four report cards I received during my year of kindergarten, the teacher wrote, "She never speaks above a whisper." In third grade, I was frequently given an extra homework assignment that was not given to the other students in my class: I had to write my name one hundred times. This was my punishment for regularly turning in my other homework assignments without putting my name on the paper.

In fifth grade I was one of several dozen students bussed from my neighborhood elementary school in a largely black neighborhood to integrate the elementary school in a mostly white, mostly Jewish neighborhood. The bizarre thing was, I was (and still am) white, and I was the only such child on the bus. I didn't fit with my bus mates, I didn't fit with the natives of my new school. Introverted and awkward to begin with, I had a very lonely year.

At a schoolwide assembly a few days before high school graduation I was given several awards, none of them really academic, unless you count the one for "diversity of artistic gifts," which was for my extracurricular involvement in both art and writing classes and activities. I remember walking onto and across the auditorium's stage to take the certificate from the principal's left hand while shaking her right hand. I remember feeling more embarrassed than anything else, because I figured they were giving them to me because they felt sorry for me. The only award I thought I actually deserved was one presented by the counselors' office, where I'd spent many a study period helping the secretary by filing papers and stuffing envelopes for mailings, and when there was none of that to do, talking to one or another of the guidance counselors. I don't know if any of them ever figured out what was really going on with me; I never told them. I just remember feeling very safe and accepted in those rooms.

In my twenties I once rode my bike eight miles to the city art museum to see Woody Allen's movie Zelig, about "a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him" (as described by Wikipedia), because I figured I could relate to him.

In my early thirties a job supervisor told me that if I ever wanted to advance I should take a public speaking class to learn how to contribute more at staff meetings and to become more confident and comfortable talking to clients on the phone.

I now recognize these experiences as a few of the many impacts that others' inappropriate sexual behavior during my growing-up years has had on my life. I have been exploring this topic on this blog not to shame anyone (I haven't given any names or details), nor to garner sympathy. I have worked hard over many years—decades—and spent lots of money trying to find and claim the authentic person hidden beneath the layers of adaptation and self-protection. I often still feel like I'm just beginning, and some days I feel like I've made no progress at all, and now and then I actually feel content with my limitations—safe, the way I felt in the school counselors' office.

Early tonight as I was listening to Dawn Eden being interviewed by Tony Rossi on Christopher Closeup, I jotted down this thought:
Survivors of abuse and of the false self are like Mary Magdalene. I wonder how she spoke to other women about her experience? I wonder if she expressed explicit anger at those who continued to hurt others like she had been hurt?
The Bible doesn't say what actually happened to Mary Magdalene, doesn't tell us how those seven demons (Mark 16:9) got into her in the first place. The memories of people who have been sexually abused as children can certainly feel like demons that have taken up residence in one's mind and heart. Could Mary Magdalene's demons have included those of "misplaced guilt and misplaced shame"?

When the 72 disciples that Jesus sent out to "cure the sick" at the beginning of Luke 10 returned to him, they told him excitedly, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus had warned them that he was sending them out to be "like lambs among wolves." They were to be gentle, to offer peace; yet they were to tell the truth, that the people would be subject to harsh judgment if they did not repent; and if they were not well received, they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave, after going "out into the streets" and announcing a final warning, "the kingdom of God is at hand."

Couldn't Mary Magdalene have been one of these disciples? Knowing what it was like both to be possessed and to be emptied of her possessors, wouldn't she have been an appropriate and compassionate member of such a team?

The way Dawn is? The way I would like to be?

Amen.

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