October 19, 2007

Eve: A Special Hatred

Gauguin (Breton Eve, 1889)



As some of you know, I was sexually molested when I was 17 by a Christian doctor. I'm now 55 and while some might say it's all "water under the bridge" and that I need to get on with my life (I am after all a grandmother), I am learning otherwise. It's water that took the bridge out.

For health reasons, my parents had put me in the care of family friends in Arizona my senior year of high school--and the minister of the church this family and I attended recommended that Mum place me under the medical supervision of a doctor who was also the Young Life leader at Scottsdale High. The man literally held my life in his hands; he was endorsed on two counts by the church; and he molested me. Not until I was 29 and coming out of a destructive marriage did I ever tell that it happened--though I could not speak of the details and still can't. At 29 I had single parenting and all its attendant difficulties on my plate, and when my youngest went off to college several years ago I had recuperation from the seventeen years of single parenting on my plate. What happened in Arizona, by necessity remained on a back burner.

Too, there was no real drive to pay much attention because I was (and am) fully aware that my molestation is nothing in contrast to what too many women and children have suffered (and suffer). And as miserable as my subsequent marriage was (once abused, you attract abusers), there are thousands of marriages far worse. To deal with my own "insignificant" psychoses has felt to me rather selfish; my limited energy seemed better spent on those who "really" suffered. Like my children. Like my neighbor. Like the stranger at a party who confides.

But then the flashbacks began two years ago, and I can no longer ignore the bubbling pot on the back burner of my life. So in two weeks I fly back to Phoenix for the first time in nearly four decades. My destination? The doctor's office in Scottsdale where I lost what feels to be 90% of myself. And then the church where I was married and lost everything else.

I have no idea what I'll learn and I'm apprehensive. I'm just sort of hoping, I guess, that seeing the buildings where it all happened will break something loose inside of me, and give me back myself. It feels a bit melodramatic, going back into time to save myself, but friends from that era have encouraged me, some rallying and coming alongside me in this uncharted venture: Carol, sister of my best friend at the time, and Rita, my former minister's wife, now eighty years old. This alone is immensely healing and serves to remind me of who I was then.

Too, last night I climbed into bed and picked up a book my friend Rachel had lent me. Rachel is actually Rita's daughter and part of the youth group in Arizona that sheltered and loved me during that year of sexual debasement. Ironically, Rachel now lives near me in the Pacific Northwest. We discovered each other last Easter and we share a love for books, ideas, and gardening. This last book she lent me proved to be about female wounding and how to be healed from the cancerous violation of our femininity. Apropos, I thought, delving in.

The authors had an interesting starting point. They went back to creation and Adam not being enough--hence Eve. She wasn't created for Adam, but to complete creation. She was the "best saved for last." Or, as my brother-in-law might say, "the heart of the watermelon and not the rind."

I'm not a big fan of Christian dogma and the church; much of my troubles stem from Christianity as it's practiced today. But I understand and appreciate cultural stories and God's transcultural communication through them, everything from Cinderella to Uncle Remus to Genesis. I was pleased to discover the authors of Captivating discuss the Hebrew word ezer--which has so lamely been translated "helpmeet" in the English Bible--and which has been used to provide divine mandate for female subservience in all its debilitating forms.

The word is used only 21 times in the Old Testament; once when referring to Eve's relationship to Adam; the other 20 times occur when speaking of God's relationship to Israel. He will be the ezer to Israel. It's a Hebrew word which is undefinable in English. The best translation is "the saving glory," or "you will die without my help," or "saving power of beauty."

John and Stasi Eldredge went on to say that the Hebrew Satan went after Eve not because she was the "weaker vessel" or the "great seducer" (both notions so prevalent in the church it makes me crazy) but because she was the saving force, the beauty and crown of creation, the now-it-is-perfect pinnacle. And that at her creation, Satan became enraged, for this had been his job before getting cast from heaven for hubris pride. Once he'd been the guardian, the beautiful, the powerful in heaven's domain! Now here was Eve?

It became imperative he crush the one who "usurped" all that he'd lost. And ever since her downfall, the Eldredges think, Satan's maintained a specific and enduring hatred of everything women are.

I'm not sure why I was blind to this very cogent observation. Many men go out of their way to stifle similar fear and jealousy by beating it out of us, using and abusing us, rendering us incapable so we can be judged incapable. They've written sexual and physical abuse into the codes of every religion, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and it permeates every culture from the cave dwellers to 2007. The misogyny of men is well documented and pervasive; and in Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge summarize this brutality chronologically and culturally.

They underscore their awful point that Satan targets women specifically by pointing out that mere men can't be this methodical. Most men are not this mean, for one thing. Nor are men who are this mean so dedicated, or smart enough to carry out such wholesale and consistent annihilation down through time. The issue of abuse against women is bigger than mere men. Abuse of women goes to the very core of evil itself.

Something here struck a chord. How many times have I felt the power of evil unleashed--sometimes in a slow, torturous crushing; sometimes in mind-boggling blows? How many times has my own mother remarked that it's as though the Biblical Lucifer blocked every good thing from my life?

The authors point out that this kind of wounding is systematic and well-thought through. Men are often used to level the hammer, it is true, but it's the message behind the hammer that is the most damaging. All forms of abuse come attached with the same destructive messages, and women everywhere know the lingo. We're worthless, unlovable, fraudulent, pariahs upon society and deserve our abuse. We're not skinny enough, thankful enough, brave enough, strong enough, worthy enough. We're too stupid, too smart, too ugly, too pretty, too passive, too aggressive. We seduce, mislead, and generate misery. These messages linger and fester and invite further abuse; and which is why, at fifty-five I'm stuck at seventeen. The messages hold me back. This is the damage I (and everyone like me) suffer from.

Last night Rita said something on the phone while we went over the arrangements for my upcoming visit. I started to cry. This confused me. Finally I confessed, "I have never cried about this, Rita."

My tears astonished me. And the fact I hadn't known until then that I had never cried over the loss of my sexuality, the very core of my identity, astonished me further.

"You've never cried?" Rita too was astonished.

I stayed up late reading Rachel's book. I awoke this morning with two thoughts in my head. One, that I really must go back and rescue myself. Two, that my doctor and the man I consequently married were more messenger than perpetrator and this took the sting out of my fear.

No, three thoughts...the third arrived after the coffee. I can shoot the messenger.

And so I go back to 1969, to try and and find who I once was. To metaphorically shoot the messengers who wounded me. And to connect with people who once helped define and sustain me as I limped into womanhood.

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My question: Is the brutality of women really a battle between good and evil? Or is this a new Christian terminology for a problem a few Christians are apparently trying to acknowledge and explain? Is there another language we can use to find healing from the violation of our sexuality? And why is it that we need to?

More importantly, what about the victimization of children, girls and boys? Women aren't the only ones to suffer rampant cruelty.

Finally, can it ever be stopped? Is there no hope for myself? For my grandchildren?

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