[This post by the Rev. Elizabeth Nordquist (and Patheos' A Musing Amma blogger) is part of a roundtable conversation on the new book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, by Dawn Eden. Visit the Patheos Book Club for more conversation and resources related to this book.]
The community of faith is always given a gift when someone tells the truth about a deep wound and seeks to bring theological and spiritual reflection to that event. In the interest of full disclosure, I read the book from an entirely different location than the writer: I am several decades older, I am a Protestant in the Reformed tradition and I am a clergy person and spiritual director. Yet, I have been very close to victims/survivors of sexual abuse, and have watched the collateral damage as well as the actual damage occur in people I serve. So I welcome this kind of truth telling and witness.
The book is some ways a journey of faith, and this story is fascinating in and of itself, as well as being a reflection of so much that it characteristic of contemporary middle class culture in the United States in the 21st Century. So many Americans find that the mobility–social and geographical–in our culture crosses religious boundaries and lifestyles that would have been almost unimaginable not that long ago. Dawn Eden’s pilgrimage from a Jewish imprinting through a family divorce, accentuated in pain by a grievous wounding of sexual abuse at a time when that kind of act was usually blamed on the victim and was certainly kept quiet, led her on a life time of searching, reflecting and healing, which ultimately led her to the home of the Roman Catholic Church, which nourishes and sustains her.
I find her candor about her experience without a need to appeal to prurient interest in details very skillful. I was pleased to see her use theologians and saints as sources of an historical perspective of sexual abuse, although I was not familiar with many of the saints she cites. I was further gratified to find that she was not afraid to call on the field of psychology to give perspective and add contemporary science to the conversation. Nor was she afraid to critique her own church when she found that its execution of its own standards had been inadequate, even harmful.
Most helpful of all was her clear exposition on forgiveness, what it is and what it is not in her chapter, “The Love That Liberates.” It was nuanced, expansive, faithful, and in no way facile in the way so many writings on forgiveness have been.
I had places where I differed from the author, especially in her Appendix on spiritual directors. I am also wondering how many of my Protestant community would be able to apprehend either her Catholic theology or the place of the saints in the spiritual journey. I imagine that this would be most helpful to those from the tradition of the author.
I am grateful for this story, its truth-telling and this woman’s reflection on her Spirit journey. It can be a helpful tool for the Church at this time on its history.
Elizabeth Nordquist is a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual director, a family lover and a friend. She has written articles for the Presbyterian Church (USA), and preaches and teaches in a variety of places where she is called.