Hello everyone, this is the latest news and wisdom from Sr Rita, who is on a journey with cancer. You will find the seven previous “Wisdom Companion” pieces from Sr. Rita by searching this site.
Sr. Rita writes:
With gratitude for your prayers and healing energy — which I know are having a positive effect — I have responded well to the second Taxol treatment. Reality says the effects are cumulative and cautions me to expect more potent side effects, but I do not know how long it will be before that happens. Living in this day, with some leftover steroid energy and boosted by our communal celebration of St joseph and vow renewal, I found myself asking Jesus how he knew what to say to people. In the quiet, I realized much of what he said, and almost all the stories he told, were in response to questions. With that in mind, I am wondering what questions you (seekers from all traditions or none are welcome) might have about the spiritual journey, about recovery from trauma, our wounded and wounding families of origin and faiths of origin—or just dealing with life on life’s terms.
Since you may want to preserve some anonymity, please send your questions, wonderments, and topics of interest to *firstname.lastname@example.org*. As long as my brain and strength hold out I will try to respond.
In the meantime, here is something I wrote as my ability to keep on keeping on with my divided life diminished…
December 14, 1990 The Grace of a Distant God . . .
I do not pretend to know the experience of other survivors of early childhood trauma—physical/sexual abuse, parentifying (a state in which the child turns into the parent and bears inappropriate responsibility), sickness, et al. I only know my journey; I share it in order that, perhaps, others might grow in hope.
Part of my survival was dependence on God for an identity and a sense of self. Since I was 6, there was (it seemed to be) no actual me. From the time of the trauma, what was left of me went into deepest hiding, even from myself. I thought the one showing up for life every day was me—defective, anxious, trying desperately hard to please, to succeed, to love, to make others happy, to atone for the sin of the world. I was very good at that image—so good that no one knew I wasn’t there—except God. Thirty-eight years later, I knew it, too.
The questions that lead me to write this are my director’s: “What do you think that is like for God? What do you think God is doing? How do you think God feels?” as well as the standard, “What is that like for you? What do you think God is saying?”
Of the many graces given, I want only to focus on one because it has been the most difficult and, I am slowly realizing, the most precious: the grace of God’s distance.
From the time of First Communion until now, I have been shouting to a distant God: “Please, teach me to love, teach me to love you; please love me, please let me matter to you, I’ll do anything.”
These are a victim’s prayers, a defense against the terrible worthlessness and shame that goes with having oneself and boundaries violated; they are the cry of incarnate panic searching to exist, not to die. I filled myself with books and stories, histories of saints and heroes, the Tom Dooleys, the Maryknoll missioners, the great writers and poets longing to create some feeling within me. Feeling something, even desperate longing, is better than feeling nothing at all.
That pattern of crying out to a seemingly deaf, inaccessible God was half my daily bread; the other half was the dream of God’s eventual response, a dream kept alive by the wonder of stories of Scripture, stories of healing, of liberation, of conversion, lost sheep found, prodigals with homes to return to, poetry of transformation and cries finally heard. The stories weren’t only on paper, though. They had names and faces. To me, they appeared in the form, mostly, of my teachers, flesh and blood people daily weaving dreams of hope for me as they struggled to weave the warp of their own day-to-day existence into the woof of grace. They tried to be, and were, the stories for me. Because they could believe in me, I could hope. Because they could believe in me, God just might.
In it all, my only experience of God was longing and unbelievable distance. Like a child with no taste, I only knew I was being fed and nourished because I did not die. I could not experience what was keeping me alive, but undeniably something was.
Most of my retreats were spent feeling that distance and eventually ending up in a screaming match with God. I call those my “bakery days”. I lived like a child, with my nose pressed against the glass, unable to enter, longing to taste the sweetness, to savor the warmth of the goodies. My poem was The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot: “…I hear the mermaids singing; they will not sing for me” . . . My song was Gershwin’s But Not For Me . . . “They’re writing songs of love but not for me.” I lived like a cheated child—playing the self-righteous elder brother one moment and the prodigal the next—both to the hilt.
During it all, God was both distant and relentless. Years of therapy loosened some ground. I could believe the Truth of God’s love. (I had to, or there was nothing to cling to.) I could even believe others saw something good in me, that whatever gifts of intellect and spirit given me had done others some good. Reality was my asceticism. I had to acknowledge Truth, the only remedy to the endless inner duplicity I felt within. God tried desperately to say things to me I longed to feel and could not: “Don’t be afraid; Leave her alone.” (my tortured self). “She has tried to do a good thing for me; why do you persecute me?” (in persecuting myself). “Everything I have is yours.”
The point is that what Isaiah says about God’s word is true. It is like rain on parched land; it penetrates slowly; it seeps through the parched earth’s crust, hardened in self-protection. It does not tear open or wash away or erode. It softens, and trickles through the cracks of the congealed clots of earth. It sustains hope. It fights its way through rocks that seal off that lost hurt child from all it longs for and whets that child’s appetite for life. The child screams in darkness for “more” and “faster.”
What I did not know, but realize now, is that more and faster are signs on the way of violation. I thought salvation had to come via the same route as violation—that the way of love is to tear open, to seize, to claim without permission, that surrender to God meant absolute passivity on my part, absolute force and power on God’s. I wanted God to be that way. It was the only way I knew. It was the way I thought it was supposed to be.
God was giving me what I wanted, indeed what I needed, but not in this sick way I demanded. God would not sell me short, console me with the familiar and thereby deepen the wound God declined to heal. This distance of God is God’s love.
The distance of God is God’s absolute respect and regard for me as “other”—Though I am God’s creation, I am not God’s toy or pet meant for being used. God’s response to my prayer, “Claim me, Jesus crucified” (Sounds great and holy, doesn’t it?) was “Claim yourself.” What sounds like rejection is liberation. God wants me to have myself—that lost, buried, violated child in hiding—God wants to restore to me. God will not do for me what it is better I do for myself. God will help me, but Godsafeguards my right and need to take myself back and have power over who I am and to whom I will give myself.
For the first time in my life, I am aware of God’s restrained enthusiasm. God longs to give me all I desire and more, but stays at a distance until I invite God closer. God honors my fear of intimacy, honors my struggle to separate being loved from being destroyed. God waits when I still, even now, get bogged down in shame and embarrassment.
God’s distance is God’s love. God trusts me even with the power to reject, to make God wait. God understands my ambivalence of longing for closeness and feeling that closeness means death.
I am impatient with myself, wanting to be where I am not, but God does not seem to mind the waiting. In fact, God seems quite a patient lover, waiting for an invitation to come closer, quick to set a safe distance, and more sensitive to my tenseness than I am. But, when I dare to look at God in the eye, full face and head on, I am shaken to the core by God’s hope and desire for me. I cannot do it often—just enough to keep me going for now.
So, now, I trade in the old songs and poems for others—
. . . The Truth must dazzle gradually . . .
“Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be . . .”
For now, in all the days gone by, I slowly realize the distance is the grace; the distance is the love. And now I also know that the distance is diminishing.