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Sexual Assault, Anger, and Gentleness

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I may have to re-think this every-day blogging practice. I opened my journal this morning and realized that I haven’t written in six days, which is unheard of during my retreats in New Hampshire. I have a call with my therapist this afternoon, and I don’t know what to talk about, since I have no record of my musings.

In fact, I do know what I’ll talk about, and it’s probably the same thing most women are processing this week with counselors, therapists, and friends. I am bowled over by the reaction to Trump’s sexual predation tape on social media — my Facebook and Twitter feeds are crammed with women remembering and re-living predation stories from the past. Many, like me, are surprised by their anger and even rage.

I blogged on that recently and included a list of my experiences from childhood to twenty-five. Last night as I was falling asleep, I remembered another that I had completely wiped out of my mind. The closest I have ever come to being raped. My boyfriend’s best friend, and my boyfriend wouldn’t believe me. He said I must have “misunderstood” because K would never do that. No wonder I wiped out that memory!

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about today. I am exhausted by it all.

Instead, I want to share a quote about gentleness that I came across while preparing a sermon on the topic. I think the sentiments are much needed right about now. I apologize that some of my posts about The Donald have not been very gentle. I am human, I am a woman, and I am angry. Also sad.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

On Gentleness

If you don’t know Henri Nouwen, you should. He was a remarkably gentle and loving man, a priest, professor, theologian, and writer. He wrote this about gentleness, which the Bible says is one of the signs of being a Jesus follower:

“Once in a while we meet a gentle person. Gentleness is a virtue hard to find in a society that admires toughness and roughness.

We are encouraged to get things done and to get them done fast, even when people get hurt in the process. Success, accomplishment, and productivity count.

But the cost is high. There is no place for gentleness in such a milieu.

Gentle is the one who does “not break the crushed reed, or snuff the faltering wick” (Matthew 12:20). Gentle is the one who is attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of the other and enjoys being together more than accomplishing something.

A gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly, and touches with reverence. A gentle person knows that true growth requires nurture, not force.

Let’s dress ourselves with gentleness. In our tough and often unbending world our gentleness can be a vivid reminder of the presence of God among us.”

Amen.

Day fourteen of my daily blogging practice

 

A Gentle Rain Trumps a Hurricane: Mental Health Day

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A GENTLE RAIN TRUMPS A HURRICANE: MENTAL HEALTH DAY

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Sabbath:

It’s warm inside the Vermont Quaker meetinghouse. A gentle rain patters on the roof and coaxes  golden trees circling the house to release their leaves to winter rest.

We sit.

I got here a few minutes late and the room was already in silence. When I settled into my favorite corner, I let out a huge sigh and then felt self-conscious about the audible stress I had just carried into the room. I imagine that my sigh was tinted slightly orange.

The coming forty-five minutes in silent prayer and meditation doesn’t seem long enough to free my mind and spirit from the outrage and uncomfortable memories that Donald Trump’s sexually predatory comments have stirred up in me.

We sit.

I have not been at peace all week. I’ve been trying to write a sermon on gentleness, but keep getting caught up in the violent whirlwind of this election, despite a two-day fast from news and social media. My psyche feels battered by hurricane-force winds, and there’s a danger of drowning. What do I know of gentleness?

An old woman on the bench in front of me is slowly rotating her ankle around and around, causing her leather boot to creak, creak, creak. At first it’s annoying and distracts me from my meditation, but after a time I begin to imagine I’m journeying on horseback, saddle creaking rhythmically beneath me. It’s soothing.

I sit.

The rain falls softly outside, slowly seeping into the drought-parched earth, deeper, deeper, patiently seeking ways through hard and rocky soil, at last reaching thirsty roots with nourishment and life.

If You are Struggling Emotionally . . .

This is a hard time for Americans, no question. I highly recommend finding time for silence and solitude, walks, and news & social media fasts. Women in particular have been triggered by Trump’s sexually aggressive words and actions.

My 2016 news year’s blog, How to Forgive described a spiritual practice to help you deal with tough emotions. It’s called Welcoming Prayer, and I offer it again today in recognition of World Mental Health Day . I wish you gentle peace:

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Letting Go

Go someplace where you can be alone in silence. Gaze out a window or at a candle or a piece of artwork. Relax. Allow yourself to focus on the “bad” feeling. Name it. Anger? Hurt? Rage? Desperation? Sadness? Notice where in your body you experience the feeling. Your chest? Your head? Your stomach? Your throat? Put your hand there and sit with the feeling. Then say: “Welcome, {feeling}. I know you are here to teach me. I welcome you.”

Solitude and silence: Step One to Serenity

Solitude and Silence: Step One to Serenity

Some background: This method is based on the work of Father Thomas Keating and his belief — backed up by many psychologists — that humans have core “emotional programming for happiness” that gets us through life. From a very young age, we learn to seek and cling to safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Memorize these. I can guarantee you that at some level, no matter what gets you stirred up or upset, one or more of these “needs” is at the bottom of it. When one of them is threatened, we often react from deep childhood survival programming and lose perspective. We act like angry children instead of adults.

So, after you have named and welcomed your feeling and identified where it’s centered in your body, you may sit with the feeling as long as feels right. Because you are going to let it go, so you want to be completely ready. If you give it some thought, you will likely be able to tell exactly which of childhood emotional needs has been threatened by the situation/person that was the catalyst for your pain and resentment or anger. Sometimes all of them are involved — these are the toughest to release.

When you are ready, say “I accept the lessons I’m learning from this {feeling} and I release my need for safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control.” Then you may release your feeling. Or you may keep it around a while to pray about, think about, write about, and learn from. Think of it as a visitor, no longer a permanent resident.

The God Question

I’m a God-person, so when I release my emotional needs and pain, I do it by turning them over to God. God’s got my back; I don’t need to protect my safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Using this method over time, I get stirred up less and less often, being assured that I belong, I’m safe, and I’m loved beyond imagining. My clinging, fearful child has quieted down. I forgive “trespasses” soooo much more easily than I used to. 

At Peace with the Past

Learning to Be at Peace

If you’re not a God-person, I suppose you could release those needs to the universe or the cosmos or some “higher power that is greater than yourself,” as the twelve-step recovery folks say. Perhaps you could imagine putting your unwanted emotions on a train and then watching it disappear down the track. Or imagine dropping them in a river and watching them float out of sight. However you envision releasing your negativity, the point is to send it packing.

Day thirteen of my daily blogging practice.

On Being Groped

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ON BEING GROPED

I don’t think that most men believe that most women have been groped. It seems so beyond the pale, doesn’t it? Well, check out Twitter the last two days if you don’t believe it. Some women have offered space to others to share about their experiences, and the results are moving, to say the least. I encourage you to take a look at this scrolling selection on the Huffington Post page.

Trump’s vile sexual arrogance has triggered a tsunami of women’s rage-full stories, and it’s no wonder. For generations, millions of girls and women have endured groping hands and much, much worse, and they often carry guilt, shame, and secrecy about their unwanted encounters.

Image of compassionate psychiatrist comforting her crying patient

Trump’s brazen vulgarity has blown the lid off the outrage. It brings it all back: the red sweaty faces, the bad breath, the hot hands, the heavy breathing. The entitlement. If this sounds like the voice of experience, it is.

In the belief that secrecy and shame are highly over-rated, I will share eight sexual predation stories from my first quarter century:

  1. I am ten years old when a young man pulls up to the curb, exposes himself and tries to make me get in his car. I run.
  2. I am sixteen. I say no. I say no again. I don’t want to talk about the rest.
  3. I am seventeen and volunteering at a theater. The manager of the carpentry team I work for is giving me a ride to work when he stops the car and sticks his tongue down my throat. I struggle away and remind him he’s married, and he yells that I’m enticing him.
  4. I am eighteen, sitting on a low stool taking inventory at a hardware store when the store manager comes up behind me, sticks his hands down my blouse and grabs my breasts.
  5. I have just turned nineteen and am working at the CIA headquarters. My thirty-year-old supervisor takes me to lunch, lunges across the seat of his car, kisses me, and sticks his married hand up my skirt. I ask an older woman in the secretarial pool what to do and she tells me not to get in the car with him again . . . and not to wear such short skirts.
  6. I get a new CIA supervisor. This one is thirty-five when he shoves his married tongue down my throat at the office holiday party.
  7. I don’t even bother to tell anyone when another CIA employee comes up behind me and shoves his (married) hands down my blouse. My fault, probably. I should have been wearing a turtleneck.
  8. I’m twenty-four and an older man I’ve never met is giving me a ride home from Boston where we had attended my uncle’s funeral. He runs his hand up my thigh and tries to persuade me to go to a hotel with him.

I encourage my fellow women: share your stories.

You are more than welcome to share them in the comments here. Of course you don’t have to share them publicly, but please find a close friend and bring them out into the light.

Don’t let men like Donald Trump win. Speak out.

We're mad as hell and we're not going to let a sexual predator become president!

We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to let a sexual predator become president!

Day twelve of my daily blogging practice.

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