I have been dreaming terrible dreams about sexual violence and the silencing of women as I listen to the unfolding witness of women to Donald Trump’s assaults on them. Trauma is contagious, as Judith Herman so wisely says.
I know I have to deal with it. Perhaps you feel a similar need.
Over a long career of being present to women who have been assaulted, and dealing with my own experiences, this much I know: lamenting the losses and claiming anger, claiming it with holy rage, can be helpful.
The Psalms can be very helpful in doing this kind of raging, healing work.
One thing that has helped me, and I have shared with others in support groups, counseling and classes, is that the great truth, the existential truth many of us call God, is real. There is a knowing that can sometimes (not always, given the ways in which trauma works to fragment memory) be a source of strength.
It is often both the violence and the flat out denial by the predator that can create a private hell for women who are assaulted. The Psalms have taught me that we are not alone in this hellish situation.
Let me put that another way:
God knows what you did, Trump.
The Psalms can provide a witness to human evil, and to human resilience in the face of evil.
A colleague and I did a study of the Psalms for a church that had recently become aware of sexual misconduct by their pastor over many years. In the bible study, a church member shared that when the allegations of misconduct started to come out, this pastor had said, ‘God doesn’t care about such things.’
There was an audible intake of breath among the group. Apparently quite a few church members had heard this from the accused pastor. My colleague and I shared Psalm 53, and particularly this verse:
“The fool says in his heart, There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile.”
Psalm 53 is a lament because, in fact, the psalmist doesn’t give a ‘there, there, now, now’ kind of response to the fool’s denial. The destructiveness of the fool who denies God is laid out in no uncertain terms. “There is none that does good, no, not one.”
How much has our “rape culture” been created, maintained, even cultivated by those who facilitate the lying by the rapist? It takes a whole lot of people refusing to “do good” to make this rape culture work for the sexual predator, and against the victim. But this can change, and has successfully been changed time and again. What will bring Donald Trump down, of course, is that the women who have been silenced will not stay silent any longer.
Women do survive and heal from sexual assault. It is a kind of ordinary miracle. In our chapter, “A Conversation on Healing and Grace,” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, Mary Pellauer and I discuss the dynamics of healing from sexual assault as a example of how grace works in the world. Mary, from her extensive work in this field, lays out the way in which a kind of spiritual resilience can be strengthened. But it is, as she points out so well, very messy and it doesn’t always work like that. I strongly urge you to read this dialogue if you have not done so.
Anger at the denial of what the predator has done to you can be named and claimed in the Psalms. Psalm 109, for example, is horrific in the way it calls on God to punish those who have “a lying tongue.” I struggle with such Psalms because I know I have wished for terrible things for sexual predators. Look at the anger there and know you are not alone when you feel that way.
I do know this as well. Anger turned inward can become depression. It needs to be expressed, optimally in a safe counseling environment. Otherwise, it is literally sickening.
Healing can occur as we lament, claim anger, and realize that even as deserts can be made into gardens as they are watered, souls too can flourish again as Psalm 107 so beautifully shows.
That is a dream I look forward to having.