Seeking justice

A large plastic bin has been sitting in my garage since I moved here eight years ago, and I finally got around to cleaning it out. At the bottom was a scrap of paper with a quote from Helen Keller.

God--justice-rape

I have been pondering where I might “soar” as I contemplate the next chapter of my life, or as one friend put it, my “last act.” Yes, I am in the third third of my life and it is time for me to consider my last act.

What shape this chapter will take is still a mystery; it is a mystery I want to explore.

One “scene” (to stay with the play metaphor) is speaking out about being a rape survivor, and particularly being someone who was raped by a man in law enforcement.

I want to reach out to others who have been sexually assaulted by law enforcement officials to let them know they are not alone—and that there is help, hope and healing. Prosecution may not be a realistic expectation or option but moving from victim to survivor is.

One of the presenters in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality course said, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” which got me thinking more about justice.

Upon hearing my story of being a rape survivor, several people have asked me about justice—or rather the lack of justice because the man who raped me never faced prosecution.

I have to confess that when the #MeToo movement started, I felt that justice had finally come, because I imagined the man who raped me having to wonder if anyone would say his name. It is a bit perverse (and perhaps not very Christian), but I got a little thrill from thinking that his foundation may have been shaken by wondering if he would have to face his past actions.

Another law enforcement person put it this way to me: “He has to wonder if someone is gunning for him.”

But now I am thinking about justice a bit differently. I have come to a deeper understanding and acceptance of the fact that people do cruel things out of their own brokenness. I am not excusing cruelty; I am allowing for redemption.

Reflecting on my friendship with a woman who committed a heinous crime because of her mental illness has helped me deepen my understanding of justice.

I did not know this woman before the crime, but afterward, once she decided to take her prescribed medicine, she was a different person. Instead of hurting, she began helping and instead of ranting, she began listening. She developed compassion, and she became someone who used her abilities and talents in service of others.

Where once she was intent on destroying, she became committed to building up. Her transformation helped me see how someone can grow into the person God sees, how love can restore wholeness.

That looks like justice to me.

Trust

Do not let your hearts be troubled. (John 14:1)

These words jumped off the page of my daily Scripture reading and prompted the question, what is troubling my heart?

Top of the list is my mother, who is ninety-five and on hospice. She has a variety of health issues, and yet she continues to live as though there is nothing wrong with her—she still cooks, cleans and does her laundry. She both inspires me (by her determination and perseverance) and worries me (because I know that any day something could happen—a fall, her heart could fail, etc.).

If you have ever kept vigil for someone who is nearing death, you will perhaps understand the stress of watching and waiting.

I remind myself that my mother is in God’s hands, and I believe that. Yet I know I am still holding onto something, as evidenced by the stress I feel.

The next line in John’s Gospel is Trust in God; trust also in me.

I pray to be able to let go and trust that God has my mother—and remember that God has me, too. Trust is the key, and when I am worrying, I am not trusting.

Worry is another word for fear, and Luke 8:50 reminds me that fear is useless; what is needed is trust. Another invitation to trust!

There are other items on the list of things that trouble my heart—my own health, my work, money, etc. Then there are more global issues that also trouble my heart—poverty, injustice and all the negative isms.

I know that trusting God and letting go of my fears is the way to peace in my heart, which seems to be the work of a lifetime.

What helps me to let go of worry is being present to the moment and trying to stay in the present moment. I remind myself that I cannot do anything about what might happen at some future time—and worrying about it won’t change anything.

I try to do the things that help me be present to the moment—creative activities like gardening, baking, knitting, etc.

What troubles your heart? What brings you peace?

The path

Walking the trail through the woods,

leaves cushion my steps and gently rustle

as I make my way.

The sound takes me back to childhood,

to autumns long past,

walking to school through fallen leaves,

shuffling my feet to scatter them.

Lost in that memory,

the sound of a twig snapping underfoot

startles me.

I jump and apologize,

as if the twig were still alive

and I had somehow injured it.

But the twig had already been broken in its fall.

Like the leaves, its life has been given over to cover the ground,

to soften the way and

to call out to me to pay attention to my path.

Overcoming resistance

Over a year ago, I stopped going to church—at first because churches were closed, and when they reopened, I was not comfortable going. I had realized early in the shut-down that those things that are most habitual pose the highest risk of forgetting we are in the midst of a pandemic. Church is a place of ritual and habit.

My church is one of those places where many people hug in greeting one another, and I wanted to avoid having to put my hands up in a “STOP” position. I have missed being hugged, but protecting my health is more important.

Once I received the vaccine, however, I decided to go to Mass.

The seats had been rearranged to ensure social distancing, and I felt very safe. Then came communion, and I happened to see a woman walking back to her seat touching the hands of people she passed—just as she used to do before the pandemic. It was habitual, and people responded as they did pre-pandemic.

I was immediately uncomfortable, and I have not gone back to church since.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when we thought it would only last a short time, I decided that I did not want to watch Mass on a screen. Something felt off about it, as if Mass were a play. I always think of Mass in terms of participation, so not only had I not gone to Mass, but I had also not watched it.

Then, on Easter Sunday, I decided to try watching Mass being livestreamed from my church. It was wonderful to see people again, and I appreciated “being” there.

During this Mass, I began to wonder why I had been so resistant to viewing Mass on a screen.

Resistance is familiar to me, and this incident with the livestream Mass seemed to open the floodgates of my awareness of things I have been resisting during the pandemic.

God-resistance-fear

I think fear of contracting coronavirus has sparked other fears, and the fears have just kept piling up. For example, I have not traveled, and the few times I have eaten in restaurants, I was too anxious to enjoy my meal. Even though I have gotten the vaccine, I am still hesitant to be around more than a few people at a time.

Last week, I was talking with a friend about retirement and said I was afraid I would not have enough money.

“I’ve never heard you talk like that,” she said. She is right; I never feared not having enough money. I live within my means and even though I don’t have a lot of money, I have always managed financially and been content with my financial situation.

I am going on retreat next month, and my spiritual director suggested I try not to anticipate what will happen. I do hope, though, that God will work with me on my fears and resistances. And I am joyfully anticipating going to Mass every day.

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Nesting

I hadn’t noticed the robin

gathering leaves, twigs and bits of string,

building her nest in the eave of my garage.

Had she built it all in one day, I wondered,

the way it seemed to magically appear.

What I had noticed, though, for several days in a row,

was a robin sitting on the top of the fence,

and that drew my eye

to the place where she

(or was it other robins?)

had nested in years past,

that garage eave

just above the hydrangea plant that served as

a safety net to catch her babies

should their first attempts at flight not succeed,

a buffer between her home and the neighborhood cats

who would sense the presence of fledglings

learning to spread their wings.

I, too, am nesting,

gathering bits of this and that,

shaping them into something

that I hope will take flight one day.

Claim your treasure

Every Monday, I look forward to an email in my inbox from Shola Richards with a message about positivity. Confronting fears was the theme of last Monday’s email, and the message spoke directly to me, especially the opening quote:

“Inside the cave you fear, lies the treasure you seek.”

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I have a fear of caves, so the very idea of stepping into the darkness of a cave made me shutter. But the idea that the treasure I seek is hidden within made sense to me.

“The only way past the pain is through the pain,” came to mind as I pondered entering a dark, fearful place like a cave.

What I fear won’t go away on its own; I need to confront it and move through it. I need to step into what seems ominous and threatening. The only way to find the treasure is to enter the cave.

I had an insight into this truth a few weeks ago. I was talking with someone about being a rape survivor, and I said the name of the man who raped me.

Two things happened almost immediately.

The first was that I had not realized that fear had me in its grip, but as soon as I said his name, the fear dissipated and was replaced with a sense of power. Instead of standing outside the cave, fearing the darkness, just saying his name sparked a light.

The second was something from the Harry Potter books. The main adversary in the series is an evil character commonly known as “He who must not be named.”  In that instant of speaking the name of the man who raped me, I realized how much power I had been giving him all these years just by protecting his name.

Why had I been protecting him? Why had I not spoken his name? As in the Harry Potter series, once Lord Voldemort is named, his power is diminished. Fear is replaced by freedom.

When I relayed these events to a friend, she quoted scripture, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:38).

Fear can be crippling. It can keep us stuck in darkness, giving up our power and limiting our potential.

Naming our fears can break the spell, and we can reclaim our power and our freedom.

I invite you to step inside the cave and claim your treasure.

Being healed

Do you want to be healed? Jesus asked the man sitting near the pool (John 5:5-15).

Reading that passage, I thought, “What kind of question is that?” Who doesn’t want to be healed?

Can you imagine someone asking you if you want to be healed and you would say, “Hmm, let me think about that.” Rather, I think most of us would answer without hesitation, “Yes, I want to be healed.”

So why does Jesus ask that question?

Perhaps because we may want to be healed in theory, but in reality, we get some benefit from being unhealed. Maybe it is sympathy for our suffering or a familiarity and comfort in our identity as one who suffers. Perhaps it is just that we don’t even know that we are holding onto something that needs healing, let alone how to let go and be healed.

The answer to Jesus’ question might often be a “Yes, but…”

Yes, I want to be healed, but I also want to hold onto some of the identity associated with what ails me, to stick with what feels comfortable.

Yes, I want to be healed, but I do not want let go of all of my anger, resentments and fears.

All kinds of things can cripple us or bind us—old hurts, low self-esteem, insecurity, grief—things we need to work on or through.

That work can be challenging, and the changes might not be evident for a long time. Not every healing happens the immediate way it did with Jesus.

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I have wounds that go way back to my childhood—and then additional wounds on top of those. Some are more traumatic than others, and some have been healed just as new hurts occurred. It seems to me that healing is the work of a lifetime.

Jesus desires that we be healed. He showed that many times throughout the Gospels, from healing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38-41) to the paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Luke 5:17-20) to the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years (Mark 5:25-29). He healed people of all ages and from different backgrounds. He brought Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-42) and Lazarus (John 11:1-44) back from the dead.

He wants us to be healed and live full lives. He wants us to leap up like the man healed by Peter in Acts 3 so that we, too, are “jumping and praising God.”

Oh such joy! Who wouldn’t want that?

Maybe Jesus would ask follow-up questions like, What is stopping you from receiving healing love? What is blocking the path to living more joyfully? What is one thing you can let go of that will make you freer to give and receive forgiveness?

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I have been thinking a lot lately about seeing people as God sees them, and I believe God sees each of us as our best self, and God’s desire is that we grow into that image, to become the person that God created us to be.