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Beyond Crucifixion: Meditations on surviving sexual abuse

01 February, 2011

106 pp. Darton Longman and Todd Ltd. To purchase this book online go to www.dltbooks.com THE BOOK“Not for the faint-hearted. For those who want to support survivors of abuse in practical ways, walking the Lenten journey with Beth Crisp is a great place to start. Confronting and challenging, this pilgrimage from sin to hope is […]

106 pp. Darton Longman and Todd Ltd. To purchase this book online go to www.dltbooks.com

THE BOOK
“Not for the faint-hearted. For those who want to support survivors of abuse in practical ways, walking the Lenten journey with Beth Crisp is a great place to start. Confronting and challenging, this pilgrimage from sin to hope is one of the most moving journeys you may ever make.” Richard Leonard, author of Where the Hell is God?

THE AUTHOR
Beth Crisp is a Melbourne-based writer and Associate Professor of Social Work at Deakin University.


 CONTENTS

Acknowledgements
Introduction

1. Taking up the Challenge—Ash Wednesday
2. Rejection—Thursday after Ash Wednesday
3. The scandalised church—Friday after Ash Wednesday
4. Conversion—Saturdayafter Ash Wednesday
5. Seduction—Sunday Lent 1
6. Too hard—Monday Lent 1
7. Fathers —Tuesday Lent 1
8. Steadfast spirit—Wednesday Lent 1
9. Suffering in silence—Thursday Lent I
10. Confession—Friday Lent I
11. Get real—Saturday Lent 1
12. Texts of terror—Sunday Lent 2
13. Low self esteem—Monday Lent 2
14. Wayward and bad—Tuesday Lent 2
15. Deliver me Lord—Wednesday Lent 2
16. Blessings— Thursday Lent 2
17. The favoured one—Friday Lent 2
18. Profound love—Saturday Lent 2
19. More texts of terror—Sunday Lent 3
20. Thirsting for God—Monday Lent 3
21. Impossible demands— Tuesday Lent 3
22. According to God’s plan? —Wednesday Lent 3
23. Why doesn’t a loving God prevent abuse? —Thursday Lent 3
24. Loving oneself—Friday Lent 3
25. The need for healing—Saturday Lent 3
26. Consequences of breaking the silence—Sunday Lent 4
27. Mosaics—Monday Lent 4
28. Spiritual direction— Tuesday Lent 4
29. Timeframes— Wednesday Lent 4
30. The need to be believed— Thursday Lent 4
31. The imperfect but loving God—Friday Lent 4
32. The long term effects of abuse—Saturday Lent 4
33. Survivors nor victims—Sunday Lent 5
34. Put on trial—Monday Lent 5
35. Remembering to be thankful—Tuesday Lent 5
36. Miraculous survival—Wednesday Lent 5
37. No longer believe in God— Thursday Lent 5
38. A time for giving thanks—Friday Lent 5
39. This is the word of the Lord? —Saturday Lent 5
40. On a journey—Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday
41. Anointing—Monday Holy Week
42. Betrayal—Tuesday Holy Week
43. Lord answer me—Wednesday Holy Week
44. Eucharist—Maundy Thursday
45. Crucifixion—Good Friday
46. Commitment—Easter Vigil
47. Resurrection—Easter Sunday

Notes
Works cited


INTRODUCTION

The forty days from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday can seem a long journey, but the liturgical year rightly recognises that we need time to prepare ourselves for the Good Friday experience of Christ’s crucifixion and the Easter Sunday of his resurrection. Almost allthe prayers and reflections in this volume are anchored in the daily lectionary readings of the Roman Catholic Church. These readings provide both a structure for the book and stimulus to explore different issues from the perspective of a survivor of sexual abuse.

This book is the result of a journey over many years which began with a challenge one Ash Wednesday to move out of some long-ingrained patterns of being and thinking which were doing me no favours. Although coming to terms with sexual abuse and how to relate to God in the aftermath underpins most of the readings and reflections, many of the issues tackled here might equally apply to a wide range of difficult situations in which individuals find themselves.

There will be some readers who can work through this volume, day by day over the forty-seven days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, contemplating the quote and the reading of the day, engaging with the reflection, and praying both the printed prayer and prayers of their own. But this book, which began as an essay aimed at pastoral workers and evolved into something perhaps more radical and unusual, more interrogative, will invite a range of readings. I suspect there will be many readers who will need to use the quotes, prayers and meditations at a pace and in a way that is more appropriate to them.

However readers choose to use this book, although it would be foolish to promise the joy of Easter Sunday by the end of this book, my prayer is they will have perhaps made a few more tentative steps towards this point.

Beth R Crisp


1. TAKING UP THE CHALLENGE

Ash Wednesday

For years, early morning was a time I dreaded. In the process of waking up, my mind would run with panic. All the worries of the previous day would still be with me, spinning around with old regrets as well as fears for the future. I don’t know how or when the change came, but now when I emerge from the night, it is with more hope than fear. I try to get outside as early as possible so that I can look for signs of first light, the faint, muddy red of dawn.

—Kathleen Norris

Joel 2:12-18. ‘Come back to me,’ says the Lord

Several years ago I emerged from mass on the morning of Ash Wednesday and by chance met up with a friend. The conversation lasted only a few minutes but left me feeling devastated. Accepting my friend’s challenge meant acknowledging that there was something seriously wrong in my life. Over the weeks, months and years that followed, I was led to confront the reality of the dreadfulness of the abuse I had been subjected to, and the ways this had long impacted on me. I hope never again to experience such dark days as followed that Ash Wednesday. Yet I know that much good has emerged out of that devastation, like the bush that regenerates after devastating fires. Hence, each Ash Wednesday I give thanks for the then unimaginable wonderful ways in which I have been blessed and able to forge new beginnings.

Ash Wednesday has long been a time for Christians to take on new challenges for Lent. Often this has been in the form of giving up some pleasurable non-essential, such as chocolate or alcohol. However, increasingly, Lent is becoming known as a season for making new commitments to serve God and those around us. As I discovered, that challenge may mean committing to recognising and starting to address those issues within us which seek to destroy us, such as dealing with the consequences of sexual abuse.

The words from the Ash Wednesday liturgy, ‘Repent, and believe in the gospel’, are an invitation to take stock of our lives and once again make a deliberate decision to embrace the good news of the gospel. This doesn’t necessarily mean having to do something massive or incredibly difficult. Perhaps it is just saying ‘Yes’ to God’s invitation to live a little more abundantly in our current circumstances. As we read from the prophet Joel, this invitation is especially given to those of us who have been heartbroken and in need of tenderness and compassion.

Gracious God

In the face of reluctance and fear, help me accept your invitation to live more abundantly.

It is not always easy for me to respond positively to such invitations, and even when I do, I fear opening myself to the risk of once more feeling heartbroken.

I can only take up this invitation with your help—and you will need to remind me constantly of your promise of abundant life.

Have patience with me when I seem to forget your offer. If you call handle these conditions, then we’ve got a deal.

I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.


2. REJECTION

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

During the first few months after my assault, most of the aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends of the family notified by my parents almost immediately after the attack didn’t phone, write, or even send a get well card. These are all caring, decent people who would have sent wishes for a speedy recovery if I’d had, say, an appendectomy. Their early lack of response was so striking that I wondered whether it was the result of self-protective denial, a reluctance to mention something so unspeakable, or a symptom of our society’s widespread emotional illiteracy that prevents most people from conveying any feeling that can’t be expressed in a Hallmark card.

—Susan Brison

Luke 9:21-25. The Son of Man will be rejected

The experience of sexual abuse is too often the experience of rejection. Repeated rejection. It begins when the abusers deny our humanity and reject our unspoken expectations of being treated with love and respect. But what can hurt even more is the rejection from family and friends who can sometimes act as if nothing has happened.

This was the experience of Susan Brison after a rape and attempted murder saw her hospitalised for several days. Later Brison discovered that her family had been very concerned about her. But they lacked the words or the means to discuss rape and sexual assault. In Brison’s case, some well-intentioned family members were convinced that acknowledging what had occurred would further upset her. Their perceptions as to what constituted care and concern for the individual felt to her like rejection.

Susan Brison discovered that her family did care very much for her. She was lucky. The reality for many survivors is that the revelation of sexual abuse leads to rejection or ostracism from family and friends. This is particularly an issue when the abuser is a family member or so-called `friend of the family’. An implicit agreement for peace at any price is all too common among families bound together by their silence about sexual abuse. Individuals who expose the truth about abuse may not only be disbelieved, but ultimately rejected by family members. Having experienced abuse, they find it is they and not their abuser who is rejected by other family members. Among young people I’ve worked with as a social worker, sexual abuse by family members is often the reason they have ended up homeless.

Jesus himself was no stranger to rejection. His refusal to give up on the truth and be silent in public ultimately led to his death. Today’s reading from the gospel of Luke is an invitation to all of us who have known the bitter pain of rejection to recognise Jesus as our friend and ally.

Jesus,
You know what it feels like to be rejected
by those who should have embraced you and cared for you.
Be with me when this pain leaves me heartbroken.
Stay forever and not just until I feel better.
And when the time is right,
help me show others that with your love,
loneliness and rejection can give way to light and life.


3. THE SCANDALISED CHURCH

Friday after Ash Wednesday

I am sorry this has happened to you. The abuse should not have happened. And it is despicable that you should have been ignored or defamed for speaking up about it. You have done nothing wrong to cause this and you were right to expect compassion and justice from me/us. I’m sorry for all the pain, for all the times you shed tears of grief, anger, disbelief, for all the times you doubted yourself, your parents, your children.

I’m sorry for the way the churches’ stuffups/ cover-ups have led to many other things that can’t be conveyed in a media bite, the unfair and unbearable things. I’m sorry for the times even family and friend failed to ‘get it’, distancing themselves from you all because those like me with the power and responsibility didn’t understand their job description let alone the one thing their faith required of them: to stand unequivocally with the victim/s and those still vulnerable, to call the police, to counsel the perpetrator to tell the truth and make sure someone visits him in jail.

I will do everything I can bring my church to account.

—Marilyn Born

Isaiah 58:1-9. What pleases God and what doesn’t

Christian churches in many countries, and both catholic and protestant, have in recent years found themselves embroiled in allegations of sexual abuse. Reports in the secular and the religious press of these allegations have been so numerous as to have become a constant blur on the horizon. We have heard much about investigations, about the tragedies affecting individuals and communities, about financial settlements, and about clergy finally being ousted from pastoral roles. 

Although sexual abuse can occur in almost any social setting, the emphasis on scandal management by many church authorities has tended to obscure discussion of the needs of survivors of sexual abuse. scandals to be managed.

In 2002, Marilyn Born, an Australian woman who for many years has been involved in issues associated with sexual abuse by clergy, suggested an apology that could be spoken by church authorities to all those affected by clergy sexual abuse: an apology that ‘archbishops or moderators or just humble parish clerics should be saying in public to all those children and their parents who have not been helped by going to the churches’. Many of us will never get any meaningful apology either from individual perpetrators or from the organisations to which they belonged, or still belong. Official apologies from churches are likely to
be few and far between, especially when acknowledgement of sexual abuse has left churches open to expensive legal suits—to the point of bankruptcy in some dioceses. For some, the historic meeting in 2008 between Pope Benedict XVI and a number of American parishoners who had been sexually abused by Catholic clergy was an important step in acknowledging the devastating impact of sexual abuse and the need for apologies by institutions which have failed in their duty of care. For others, however, such apologies have come too late for the churches to retain any credibility.

Today’s reading from Isaiah reminds us that those who profess themselves to be the people of God have for millennia been engaged in scandalous acts, and that God has demanded repentance of their scandalous behaviour. God demands no less of the church today, and we have been short-changed by churches which have cared more about managing scandals than caring for those who have endured sexual abuse.

God of Justice
We have been let down by churches which have proclaimed
your word but acted without reference to your way:
When care was needed, abuse was provided.
When apologies were desperately needed, there were scandals to be managed.
When repentance was sought, we were sidelined or banished.

God of Justice
Grant us clarity to recognise:
That you never stopped caring for us,
And that our wellbeing was your highest priority,
Even when we were made to feel as if it were otherwise.

God of Justice
Help us this day to find you,
despite all the obstacles which the church has placed in our way.

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