Sunday, July 12, 2020


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in

(Leonard Cohen, "Anthem")

This has been a tough week. It started on Monday with the feast of Saint Maria Goretti -- a little Italian girl, not quite 12 years old, who was knifed to death in 1902 while resisting rape. Worse even than that appalling event, somehow, is the text that the Church in her wisdom (yes, that's sarcasm) assigns to the Office of Readings for that day: it's an excerpt from Pope Pius XII's speech at her canonization, in 1958. "From Maria's story carefree children and young people with their zest for life can learn not to be led astray by attractive pleasures which are not only ephemeral and empty but also sinful. Instead they can fix their sights on achieving Christian moral perfection, however difficult and hazardous that course may prove."  Worse, because that almost unbelievable sermon was inflicted not by some random psychopath but by a 20th-century Pope of my Church, the Church within which I have dedicated my life to God. 

And here's the thing: I didn't have to read that this week. A, it's an optional memorial. B, I use an alternate lectionary anyway. C, if I do want to remember poor little Maria Goretti on her feast day, I have another reading that is really excellent (if long for the purpose): the chapter on "Virgin Martyrs" from Kathleen Norris's book Cloister Walk. And I did that, I read Kathleen Norris instead of Pope Pius XII ... but it didn't help. I already knew. I had read it before, and it hurt and angered me so much that just seeing her name in the calendar was enough to trigger the PTSD. 

I was raped. I was raped three times before the end of high school. I wasn't a saintly child like Maria, and I didn't fight to the death to hold onto my virginity. I was passed out drunk when I lost my virginity, at age 15. I had already been clinically depressed for 6 years by then, but this was before Prozac, and before Prozac "clinically depressed" was not understood as it is now. Neither was "date rape" or "capacity to consent." Anyway, I didn't tell my parents or any other responsible adult about it, since it was all mixed up with my own misbehavior. Which means there was no counseling, either. 

I've had some counseling since, but not much. I have always had a hard time communicating with most counselors. I never feel like they understand me, I get frustrated when they fail to follow my intuitive leaps of thinking. My spiritual director now is a monk, not a professional counselor, has no training in dealing with PTSD -- but I feel like he understands me, and we share the monastic-religious vocabulary and framework of thought, which also helps. And in the 4½ years that I've been talking with him, I have healed and healed. But I'll never be over it entirely -- it is never not going to have happened, it's never not going to be part of my history and therefore part of myself. So this week ... was rough. 

As if to drive home the message that there was some God-sent purpose, for me, in Monday's feast and its emotional impact, it was capped off by a real "act of God." A thunderstorm came through that evening, apparently with a very local microburst or small tornado. Trees and large limbs down all over my yard, and not much beyond my yard. A big limb hit my air conditioner and knocked it out of the window. A limb took down the power line between the pole and the house. I found out the next morning that another big tree had fallen and blocked the road right before my driveway, and brought down the power line there, too. After that crazy intense storm passed, wave after wave of ordinary thunderstorms came throughout the night, and I slept poorly. 

There was no damage to my house or car or chicken coop, only minor damage to the garden, and the road was cleared and the power restored by Tuesday afternoon. The landlord brought over a chainsaw and cleared up most of the fallen limbs, cutting the big pieces down to where I can manage turning them into firewood. But you know ... it all kind of piled on top of the stress from the Maria Goretti story. The depression lasted for days. Rage, grief, and a feeling of sterility in prayer, even at worst, a real aversion to prayer. I felt better yesterday -- the feast of St. Benedict, even though I still can't go to the monastery, was a pretty good diversion. I put so much attention into figuring out the music (using the old 1934 Latin Antiphonale Monasticum) that it was a good distraction, and having managed it better than I expected, it ended up being fun, too. 

And this morning I went to my parish Mass, where the saintly pastor was in fine form. He evidently doesn't much prepare his sermons, which is kind of a charming contrast from my brilliant intellectual Benedictines. He certainly reflects on the readings ahead of time, but then he just gets up and starts talking, and I suspect he doesn't always end up where he had expected to go. (Kind of how I write in this blog!) He's humble and ordinary and vulnerable, weak and flawed, and I think I would not be entirely surprised to see him start to glow, as with a halo, or find him walking a few inches above the ground. Here is a man who sees what is invisible, maybe more clearly than what is in front of his bodily eyes. He believes so passionately and surely, and as simply as a child. It was just what I needed.

And I started to think of those lines from Leonard Cohen, "there is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in." And I started to think, I am glad to have cracked this week, I want to be shaken out of my state of "recovery." I want to grow, and continue to grow, and I want to be full of life, which is never static. Not scarred and scabbed over, not safe behind emotional walls of self-sufficiency and competence and routine and, you know, tools for cheerful and peaceful living -- I mean, I don't scorn those things, I take them seriously and I'm very, very grateful for what I've learned and where I am compared to where I've been. But sometimes I have to learn how to live, and then sometimes I have to be shaken out of my strategies and reminded that God is God and I'm not the source of my own life. 

I've got to live through all the seasons: slow, green summer is followed by fruitful, decaying fall; frozen dormant winter is when the roots grow deeper underground, and all the lush exuberance of spring comes on winter's heels. The seed is ruptured by the green sprout, flowers wither and fall off when the fruit starts to form, fruit starts to rot as soon as its seeds mature, each stage in its turn, and turn again the next year. And so the seasons of life, of personal growth, of spiritual growth. There is life in death and death in life, growth and fruitfulness in shock and damage, progress in waiting. 

St. Paul talks about this thing in 2 Corinthians 12. He says he had prayed repeatedly to be freed of some unnamed weakness, but God's answer to him was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." Paul says that he is content to be weak, both in himself and in dealing with external hardships and persecution, because it is when he is weak that God's power really shines through. "There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in." It's when I'm knocked off my foundations that I find myself safe in God's hand. It's when my boot laces break that I realize how futilely I've been trying to lift myself up by them, and all the while I am being carried on God's wings. 

And now it's time for Compline, and I'm going to let this go and move on. Dear God, I offer You my weakness, my pain and grief and fear and anger, my insufficiency, and my false self-sufficiency. Let me breathe Your breath, and let my heart beat with the pulse of Your life, and let me walk in Your steps like a toddler standing on her daddy's feet, my hands held by Your hands. Let me be safe, not behind my own paltry, illusory defenses, but under Your divine and loving protection. I trust You, I love You, I choose You. Amen.



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