Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Experiment 7: Hell Doesn’t Own Me

Over the past two or three months, I've had a number of conversations with friends about healing after abuse. I've learned, on the one hand, that I haven't gone as far as I think and, on the other, that I'm on the right road. Quite a lot has come from these conversations & I hope to write about most of it. It is exhausting to take the meditations in my head & heart & make them into posts but with time, it will happen. This piece is related to my posts on Catholic Witness in which I wrote quite a lot about my experience of being abused:

”Dearest Lord Jesus Christ, please heal my memory and sensibilities so I may remain aware of and live the life You have given me today. Please make my memory and sensibilities able to distinguish between experiences in my past and experiences today. If it is Your will, grant me the ability to use the memory of offenses committed against me in the past to aid in healing those who have been abused and offended as well as those who abuse and offend the little ones whom You love so dearly. And dearest, dearest Lord, please commission me as You commissioned Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta though Your dear Mother to pray and sacrifice on behalf of poor sinners. Amen”

On July 17, 1917, Our Lady showed Lucia dos Santos and Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto hell. Not a virtual image, not a 3-D film, not even a hologram, but really, truly hell. Lucia described Jacinta as “horrified to the point …of shriveling with fear.”(1) She goes on to say that Jacinta “frequently [] sat, meditating, on the ground or some stone, and began to exclaim, ‘Hell! Hell! How sorry I am for the souls that are going to hell! And people burn there alive, like wood in fire!’ And quivering a little, she would kneel on the ground with her hands joined and say the prayer Our Lady had taught us.”(1) She was seven years old.

Neither when I read the account in my early twenties nor since have I ever been deeply impressed by Our Lady’s actions. It never occurred to me to ask why she would show such an horrific sight to little children. Perhaps it is because I was three when I saw my Grandpére murdered, four when I was first raped, four when I was separated from my parents and learned of their murders and abandoned and left with the foster family where I was beaten, neglected, and used as an object for the fulfillment of my foster siblings sexual desires (a lot can happen in the space of a month). I had experienced hell long before I read of Our Lady showing it to three children from the country of my mother’s birth. If I felt anything at all it was that Our Lady showed hell to them for the same reason heaven had deposited me there.

When I began to ask God why He had left me in hell, I didn’t think of it as hell but as being thrown to the wolves. I had to pretend to be a wolf so as to keep myself from being torn to pieces. I even wrote a short story entitled, The Wolf-Cat, wherein a young kitten, whose pride has been killed by wolves, hides in the skin of a dead wolf so that she will be taken in by the pack and not left alone to die. She is used and abused, treated the way the wolves (in my story at least) treat their kind, until the day comes when the big Cat calls her back to herself, restores her memory and tells her that she has a mission to help Him save the wolves. It was just a story written by a young girl but, like so much literature, contained more truth than so many other subjects.

At first, I didn’t particularly care to know why God had thrown me to the wolves, didn’t care when He failed to answer. It had something to do with saving my life, that I knew. But I felt God might have made a better choice and I knew that all who had abused and offended me knew better. I didn’t know why I should care about them; they deserved to be blasted out of existence for what they had done to me and to so many others. The wolves deserved to be destroyed. As for me, all I wanted was to be back in my own skin, clean again and free from the smell and the memory and the shame. I wanted God to unmake the horrible years, to remake me. I did not want a mission to save either wolves or people like those who had abused me.

But then I realized God really had saved my life by throwing me to the wolves. There was no escaping it: in learning to fight them, I had learned to fight my own despair and desire to die & be with my parents. It was also apparent that God had trusted me to turn to Him for help and that so often, I had. Such trust must be love that wanted me not only to survive but to be happy; God wouldn't trust me unless He really know me; knew I could get the job done; knew I was worth trusting. So I could trust that God really did long for me to come to Him and belong to Him; that He really loves me. I have never been able to understand, to encompass that trust or that love. That God knew I needed to learn to fight, and especially fight myself awes me to this day. He is beyond my imaginings and I have a huge imagination. He knows me far, far better than I know myself and all I could do in response was love Him but that also meant loving His creation, particularly other people. And in my usual impulsive way, I found myself saying one day that I didn’t want anyone to be left out of what He has in store for those who will accept Him.

My friend, Fallen Sparrow , used to tell me of St. Dominic asking, “Lord, what will become of these poor sinners.” I didn’t think much of it at first. But it had a way of burrowing into my memory and even connecting with my feelings about those who had abused me. I realized St. Dominic’s poor sinners, and the souls Blessed Jacinta saw burning like wood were people God loved. When I thought about what I’d impulsively said, and talked to God about it, I knew that I must include even those who terrify me, even the wolves, even those who commit horrible acts against little children. That was difficult – to want what I didn’t want – so I asked God to make me able to love as He loves. Eventually, I began to feel badly because there were some so wicked they rejected God and all the good He has in store for them. They are extremely poor when riches abound just for the asking. The more I wanted to love God, the more I found myself praying for and loving those poor wicked souls. That was a huge gift, to love the unlovable, to look forward to seeing them in heaven and sharing a laugh with which we would tell each other, “All is forgiven!” and “I’m so glad you’re here!”

I was mostly happy and quite willing to live out the rest of my life in that fashion. Longing and praying for the salvation of the wicked and looking forward to heaven but I was somewhat dead inside. It wasn’t a subject that came up very often, particularly since I rarely dated: I pretty much kept it to myself. My sensibilities had been shattered and I expected they would remain that way. I read the catechism, followed one or two orthodox Catholic blogs, read Scripture, carefully taught myself certain limitations and worked to live within them. I also had the grace and example of friends who were also working to get to heaven and eventually, it became easier to avoid major slips and to seek reconciliation when I failed. But my sensibilities were numb. For example, friends had watched Team America and aware of my growing interest in politics, encouraged me to see it but also told me there would be a scene that would cause me to hide my eyes. When the scene appeared, I wondered what the big deal was, they were just action figures being “played” with as children “play” with action figures. I’d keep the film away from little kids but it was essentially a meaningless nothing.

But then I was scandalized by some behaviour I encountered. It was an overwhelming surprise. I automatically went into fight or flight mode, escaped as soon as possible, sought out friends who would care for me and when I made it home, was grateful for the safety of my own warm bed. The experience caused intense flashbacks that lasted for months: I was tormented by memories of being abused, and by overwhelming terror and crying fits followed by depression and sadness. Nearly a year later, the flashbacks have lessened but I still have an occasional attack. My dear friend Dawn Eden unknowingly convinced me to memorize the Anima Christi and now I hide myself in Jesus’ wounds when I am under attack – it’s a safe place to be and a place where more of my sensibilities are also being healed. I’ve never been one to wear short skirts or low cut tops but I’ve begun to find myself aware of clothing that insists on exposing just a bit more of me than I want exposed and am working on addressing such wardrobe defects and deficiencies. I even find myself looking away during explicit love scenes. The innocent child I once was is being returned to life.

After He died on the Cross, Jesus descended to the dead and preached the gospel to those who awaited His coming whether they knew it or not. Abraham, Isaac, Israel, Moses, Joshua, Judith, Ruth and so many others left the prison of death for paradise. Abuse left me convinced that I had been consigned to living in hell. I did not know it but I was waiting to be set free. And He who brought the Gospel to those imprisoned by death released me. The offer hasn’t expired but is available today and tomorrow and for all time. I am evidence that what is known as “the harrowing of hell,” in which Satan is shown that he has no power over those who die with Christ, is an eternal action. I have been burned by the flames of hell but hell cannot claim me. Freed from the flames, I am returning to life just as St. Paul promised: “[] if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Romans 6:7-8)

I no longer live with the wolves. I am a cat once again and happy to be one. But I have not forgotten my time in a wolf’s skin. At times I still feel shame, feel I deserve to be abused, feel I deserve to be in hell – fire is very attractive. But in Jesus’ wounds I remember that the flames burned me but never owned me. I belong to Christ and I never want to belong to anyone else. Jacinta Marto did not forget hell, it made her pray and sacrifice on behalf of those who did not concern themselves with their eternal futures but hastened down the road to destruction. I no longer wish to forget my experience of hell but instead seek to pray and sacrifice on behalf of those who have been abused and also on behalf of small, mean abusers. And I want to work to make the number of those hastening towards destruction as small as possible; living with Christ is also participating in His redemptive work. As my memory and sensibilities are healed, I become better able to participate in that work.

The message of Fatima is penance and reparation. That is work I can do whether I’m ill or well, weak or strong. There are so many adults and children who have survived sexual abuse and other major childhood traumas yet are still enthralled by the flames, still convinced they are in hell. They don’t yet know that their experiences were not so that they would be forever lost but rather that they might be found and bring with them many others who are, in their own way, lost. Our Lady prepared Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta for a mission to sinners. I have been prepared for a mission too: I know the way out of hell and it is my job to tell others how to reach safety. It’s not an exalted mission by any means. It mostly consists in befriending those God brings into my life, praying for those in need and most especially for victims of abuse and for those who abused them. It’s nothing terribly exciting unless being a klaxon horn is exciting. I just tell those being burned that there is a sure way out of the flames, that way is Jesus.

1 “Memórias e Cartas da Irmã Lucia” (Memories and Writings of Sister Lucia); Sr. Lucia of Fatima

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yours is a testimony that is not done; much of your story of HOPE and MERCY is still being told. May Texas be kinder to you than other places have been and may you know the Peace which passeth all understanding. You are no mere cat, but a Lioness!