Contorting, Distorting Violence–Help Us Make it Stop
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset. Do not be afraid.” John 14:27
Since the Tucson shootings I’ve been thinking about how to post a blog in response to what happened. Everybody and their sister and brother had something to say about it. After a few days it felt like a saturated topic with not much left to add. I guess people made the points I would have made—that we’re all responsible for the violent among us. And that while Palinesque rhetoric did not cause the tragedy, words do matter and the tonality of public discourse can stoke fires, distort perceptions, or (as President Obama reminded us) even heal wounds.
So, the days have marched on since then and I’ve cried my tears about the nine year old who lost her life and I’ve vented my sadness and confusion about how we could do better by the mentally ill. Those are intense emotions, probably not unlike the collective grief, guilt, and helplessness we feel in most times like these.
The one thing I felt like avoiding for a while was the need to talk about how deeply we are all wounded by violence—how our bodies, our very souls are diminished and distorted by violence. By violence I mean the willful destruction of another—the desire to forcefully penetrate and diminish, even extinguish the life of another. I didn’t want to go there because going there is a paralyzing, demoralizing place for me as a rape survivor.
See I have to go back there, to that place–that place of utter isolation, that place of sharp grief, that place of contortion and constriction. I have to go back there periodically—more regularly than I would like to admit. That return, that recycling of memory and sensation and visceral overload, is not my choice. That return is intrinsic to trauma. There is no escaping it. Trying to run away only means a slow death by some other means. Honestly trauma gave birth to the saying “you can run, but you can’t hide.”
Believe me, I tried for years. Now I’ve stopped running and I work hard for the health that I feel—I also am on my knees each day giving thanks for the grace that got me here. That grace could come from nowhere but a Divine Force who won’t give into to the distortions of evil and the diminishment of violence. That kind of Holy Tenacity circles me today… and urges me into writing even a few sentences about violence. These sentences are my feeble attempt to not give into that evil, that diminishment that I’ve known too intimately in my life.
I’ve taught classes on violence and theology. I’ve talked about things like scarcity models and how they sow the seeds of violence. I’ve talked about sexism and about sin. I’ve excavated the collective numbing of a world so replete with violence. I’ve facilitated discussions on how fundamentalism, born of fear, breeds violence no matter what religion is its window dressing. I can talk about why there is evil in the world (theodicy), and how different concepts of divine power help form violent patterns of religious practice. I could write a nice academic paper on it all.
But I write this now in the midst of this latest indignity we’ve all suffered in America with a not much to add except for my own cries for relief. This topic has been coming up a lot for me lately. Even before the Tucson shootings I have been drafted into the service of being the voice of a survivor. Talking about rape and being a survivor of violence is a choice I’ve made I guess. The reason I guess the choice part is because I know deep down that speaking of it is a spiritual necessity. I do not want to suffer the ravages of living a lie.
So, the word is out and I let that happened. In fact I toiled for years to craft sentences and a framework for expressing the message of healing I feel God has given to me to share. Now my book is out and I have to deal with that exposure. I realize the good that can come of it, but I can’t say that it feels good to be this kind of messenger.
I talked to a reporter yesterday for a newspaper article on my book. She, like any good reporter, asked probing questions. And even though I have written about being raped and even talk about it and preach about it some these days since my book came out, I still cannot escape the pain, the shame, the sickness that comes from questions that search for “the story.” Yesterday and today I am so damn tired of having a story, that kind of story. I wish it could all be different; I wish I find a way to make the memories disintegrate.
Violence is no stranger to me—and I hate that I have such an intimate connection. Words are like insults—so utterly partial, so sickening in their one dimensionality. How can I give details about something that scrambles all of my body’s best wiring? Telling the story is like parsing words from a language I’ve never seen, a language with no dictionary. Description immediately flattens out the crevices of harm—and I feel crushed under that heavy weight, that pressure to disappear.
I’ve learned one thing through this that I take with me when my life compresses, and I find myself working again in the dark. That thing I’ve learned is simple: breathe and ask Jesus to have mercy. Breath means life goes on another minute. Breath means I still have contact with something Beautiful. Breath means Divinity moves through me like wind through waves. Breath is movement—it is expanding and contracting. Breath marks time even in the deepest sleep.
Christ promised us peace. I feel sure he knew how desperately we need it. I can only watch my belly expand and contract and let that be my resistance to being destroyed. And with each breath I can slowly let my prayer build into a plea to that same Divinity who yearns for us to know transforming peace—make the pain stop, Peace-giving God. Help us make it stop.