One of the wonderful things about our Church is that the seasons come round again and again, the fasts and the feasts returning in a cycle, with the same beautiful readings proclaimed again and again at the same time of year.
One of the terrible things about spiritual abuse, is that it turns that cycle of readings into a series of little barbs that stick you at the same time every year.
I have a lot of those barbs because of having been spiritually abused: words, verses, private devotions, images and songs that are sacred and very beautiful, but are painful and upsetting to me. Some things I know will hurt every time, and plan ahead to avoid them, but some come out of nowhere as a surprise. And when that happens, I make a fool of myself.
Today, Ascension Day in my diocese, at Mass, it was the psalm. “God mounts His throne with shouts of joy, a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”
The old familiar shudder came over me. I was about to flash back. I don’t know why that psalm triggered it, but there I was.
I slid out of the pew, pretending to need to use the bathroom, but I could still hear the singing in the church bathroom, so I fled outside.
Why do I write about trauma and spiritual abuse so often?
Because I’m a loudmouth, I suppose.
Because I’m part of a culture that suppresses this kind of talk. You’re not supposed to say it out loud. People act as if it’s a sin to say it out loud. You’re supposed to profess that the Church is a loving and nurturing Mother, a refuge from the world– although, for most of us, in our experience and in our memory, Mother Church has been the most abusive of mothers. This is the terrible paradox: the Church is the Body of Christ, but it is also a body made of people who are free to do things that Christ would not. And so, depending on the members of the Body that you meet from day to day, you may well find that this glorious mother is neglectful, cold, foolish, ignorant, narcissistic, violent and cruel, even though Christ is none of those things. This the truth, but we’re not supposed to talk about it. And that makes me angry, so I insist on talking about it. Bad enough to experience this paradox. To keep it as a family secret is out of the question. I want to change the culture so that we’re allowed to tell the truth.
Because I haven’t met many people who are like me. I’ve met many who left the Church in agony after they were abused. I don’t blame them in the least for walking away. I’ve met many people who were never Catholic in the first place and can’t understand why I’m still here, and I’m not better than those people. But as for me, I believe in Christ and I want to be with Christ in the sacraments, even though I have experienced a great deal of trauma associated with the Church. I’m not telling anyone else what to do. I’m not judging anyone who does something different. I’m only saying, that’s what I choose to do. And I don’t know many people like that, and I wish I had more company.
Because there might be someone else like me out there somewhere, who has these same feelings, and thinks she must be wrong.
You aren’t wrong.
I suspect that lots of people suffer as we do.
I went across the yard to the adoration chapel, not for any pious reason but because the adoration chapel has a bathroom where I could have a long drink of water. I was going to sidle through the actual chapel to the bathroom right away, but I ended up sliding into one of the chairs opposite the Presence, and staying put.
I stared at Him, and I believe He gazed at me.
I am told, and I believe, that if you have ever felt any joy in the presence of God– that joy is a tiny fraction of the joy God feels whenever He gazes on you. That is how God feels about every one of His creatures, even me. The eternal delight of the Lord is in me: He delights in me. The eternal Love of God is for me: He loves me with everything that He is, because He never does anything by halves. And the same for you, whoever reads this, and for every person there ever was. He loves all of us with all His love, eternally.
If a Being who loves that much sees His beloved in pain, because of what was done to her with Him as an excuse– imagine the pain, the anger, the desperation to make her pain stop or at least to not let her suffer alone. If He doesn’t go through this with us, then He is not Love.
Of course He would descend from Heaven to Earth. Of course He would submit to be despised with all who are despised, destroyed with all who are destroyed, crucified with all who are crucified. Of course He would rise from the dead to show us that destruction will not win the day in the end. Of course He would ascend back to the Father, and draw us up with Him in a hidden manner.
This isn’t an answer. I don’t have any answers. It’s just something that came to mind.
The images in the Adoration chapel were also very triggering, so I left before long.
There are trees and some kind of flowering bush near the playground between the adoration chapel and the church. I hugged the tree and smelled the flowers until I felt more composed.
If God is truly everywhere present and filling all things, then He is present in trees and flowering bushes.
Here is a mystery for you: Christ suffered outside the gate. When He chose to die with us, He could have chosen to die in any way He wanted. He could have given up the Ghost while dragging His cross through the Holy City of Jerusalem, and that could have been the place of our salvation. But He didn’t choose that place. Instead, He let them drive Him outside the gate, to where the unclean and unholy people were killed. When you are driven out of a church, physically pushed or ordered to leave or tormented by abuse until you flee– you are participating in the Passion of Christ. He leaves with you, to suffer with you outside the gate.
He also ascended into Heaven outside the gate. I had to look the Gospel reading up when I got home, because I didn’t hear it today. But when I got home I read it, and I remembered that Christ did not ascend to Heaven while standing in Jerusalem. He led His apostles out, outside, out of Jerusalem, as far as Bethany. He blessed them. And as He blessed them, while He was still blessing them, the blessing still ongoing: He ascended into paradise to make the way for them– for us, for all suffer with Him outside the gate.
That blessing is ongoing to this day.
I went back in to Mass in time to hear the Eucharistic prayer. I listened in the foyer because I was afraid to go back inside, but I did shuffle in to receive Holy Communion.
I am not better than people who can’t bring themselves to do that. It’s just what I ended up choosing to do.
In whatever capacity you are able to receive Him, wounded as you are, broken as you are, He is with you. Even if you cannot pray in a conscious way. Even if all you can do is exist as a wounded person. He, Himself, exists for all eternity as a wounded person for your sake.
I don’t have any answers at all.
I only know that He is blessing us here, outside the gate.
(image via Pixabay)