This spring, I finally found a spiritual director. “Martha” is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She knows that I’m a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct. When we met for the first time, I told Martha that I still have a hard time hearing the voice of God. She asked, “What about your own inner voice? Can you hear your own voice?” Now that’s something I can hear. After years of therapy, I’ve learned to recognize when I’m afraid (and of what), what makes me happy, and when to ask my loved ones for support. Martha rocked my world with her next words: “God speaks to us through our own voices.” In a flash of insight, I knew: if I had trusted my inner voice, I would have left my church the first time my pastor made me feel uncomfortable. Ignoring my fears, I ignored the voice of God.
For the past few years, I have experienced God’s voice mostly as a sense of “what’s the next step.” When I left my former church I felt a strong calling to work against clergy sexual misconduct, but I had no idea what it meant to be called. For four years I watched constantly for open doors: a training seminar, a book, an opportunity to connect with other survivors. I have walked through every door, never knowing where the path would lead, only knowing that God would light the next step. In four years I’ve read dozens of books and articles; I’ve connected with national leaders; I’ve written tens of thousands of words (including an article in Sojourners); I’ve helped other survivors on their journeys; I’ve trained dozens of UCC and Disciples of Christ ministers on Sexual Ethics, and I’ve grappled against my former church’s attempt to silence me. In the process, I’ve forged my own healing. I may be on this journey for the rest of my life, but all the time God is with me, lighting the next step.
For the past year, I’ve felt called to write this blog. Writing has helped me heal, and it has led me to other ways to serve. I assumed I would always be called to write. But suddenly, two weeks ago, the call went silent. In fact, I suddenly felt called to STOP. So I stopped… and I waited. I am still waiting. While I wait, I’m thinking about sand mandalas. Tibetan monks create painstakingly detailed pictures from millions of grains of colored sand as a way of blessing the earth and its inhabitants. These images can take a team of monks several days to complete. In the end, the monks destroy their own work. With a nod to life’s impermanence, they sweep the sand to the middle of the table. If my calling was once a mandala, it is now a pile of colored sand.
What’s next? If I were a monk and this were my mandala, I would carry my sand to a river and pour it in as a blessing to the world. But I’m a Christian layperson, and I can only wait. So I work in my garden, do my yoga with greater intention, and take care of my family. To be honest, it’s a relief to take a break from writing about such a painful topic. Right now, taking a break feels like exactly what I’m supposed to do.
While I restore my strength, I wait for God to light the next step. Maybe I’ll get a message from a survivor who needs to talk. Maybe I’ll find an opportunity to write for a larger audience. Maybe I’ll help the church create a more robust and compassionate response to clergy sexual abuse — because this is where I believe our movement has greatest leverage. I was excited to learn that The Hope of Survivors will be partnering with Baylor University on a new research study to learn about survivors’ experiences with the church. To stay informed about this important project, sign up for the HopeSpeak newsletter.
Easter is the way Christians celebrate new life, but life doesn’t usually follow the Christian church calendar. It flows in unpredictable rhythms, breaking forth in unexpected ways. Four years ago at Easter, I felt like I was in that dark tomb. But today — on Easter, 2014 — I feel something new about to break forth. Dear survivors, may your journeys lead you into new life too.