April 29, 2013 by lucieromarin
Having it on good authority that Dawn Eden’s latest book, ‘My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints,’ should be widely read, I bought a copy, and have been using it for mental prayer.
It’s very good. The chapters are a series of meditations on love as it relates to trauma and healing, and each topic references both the author’s own life and the lives of the saints. Topics as diverse as injury to the memory, cutting, forgiveness, and flashbacks are treated both at the natural and the supernatural level; the mind, and the mind, plus grace.
Everyone needs to be healed of something. However, not all wounds are equally understood or equally treated in spiritual literature, and it is possible for a Christian to find herself (or himself) unable to relate her experience of trauma to the experience of faith. This can create any number of problems. In some, a kind of dual personality emerges; in others, the trauma is supressed, rather than healed, creating a new succession of wounds; in others, the result is lasting anger, bitterness, or apostasy.
‘My Peace I Give You,’ seems unique to me in the author’s ability to present psychological and spiritual realities as interacting with one another, rather than as competing for supremacy. Theology is not a substitute for a sound understanding of human psychology, and faith is not a sort of pious equivalent of a nicotine patch to be slapped on a wound, the existence of which is then denied. Eden advocates prayer; she doesn’t advocate a novena quick-fix. In other words, a traumatised person with a spiritual life could begin to refer those two aspects of his personality to one another in order to experience genuine healing.
I’m particularly grateful for Eden’s insights about memory and about forgiveness. Anyone might benefit from these. Likening the recurring memories of trauma to the stigmata is a stroke of genius (and not just because she refers to St Gemma Galgani, who is my most beloved saint!). I also hope that her work will one day be seen as a turning point in the histories of both blame-the-victim culture and that pseudo-religious culture which values a woman’s physical integrity over her moral integrity.
I will admit to a longstanding discomfort with biography’s habit of telling me what people were thinking at any given moment, and I wondered sometimes if the saints chosen were being asked to act a part, as it were. I’m really not convinced that St Maria Goretti saw Alessandro as ‘mentally dehumanising’ her (certainly, she could never have expressed it in those terms) or that St Thomas Aquinas was thinking about anything other than hell when he chased Theodora away. But, of course, I don’t know what they were thinking, either! (And, in fairness, Eden herself cautions against an excessive diagnoses of saints according to modern ideas.)
I have no idea what a non-religious reader might make of these book. Would it open up new possibilities for healing, or just sound unintelligible? This book would certainly be a useful introduction to trauma for those Catholics who would like to believe that all healing should be immediate, or that Christians should be incapable of psychological hurt in the first place. It might be irksome to those unaccustomed to spiritual reading, and will be a disappointment to those seeking sensational detail under the guise of piety. However, it should prove a blessing to those who feel that standard spiritual fare does not address their real need. It’s not a magic cure-all; it is a desperately-needed starting-point in popular Christian writing. I hope it prospers.
One final note. In the last chapter, Eden mentions searching for a saint who endured rape, rather than a saint who died while fighting a would-be rapist. She gives the example of a saint whose physical integrity at the time of death is not known. But there is actually such a saint; Anne Ball’s ‘Faces of Holiness’ tells the story of Blessed Pierina Morosini, who was raped and murdered at age 26. I suspect that the reason Bl Pierina (who, as it happened, had a profound devotion to St Maria Goretti) does not have a widespread cultus is because she was not a teenager, because the loss of physical integrity was certain, and because, unlike her sister-martyrs, she was unable to speak extraordinary words on her deathbed. When her brother found her, she was too brutalised to speak; she died after two days in a coma.