2012, theologian and childhood-abuse survivor Dawn Eden published My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds
with the Help of the Saints (Ave Maria Press), in which she briefly
mentions the idea of God healing our memories. Like many abuse and trauma
victims, Eden was plagued by her memoriesplagued until she saw God at work,
readers latched on to this and asked Eden to write more about memory. Her
newest book, Remembering God’s Mercy, is her response. It is a much-needed
book. As she says in the preface, “There has been a growing recognition in
recent years that those of us who suffer the effects of painful memories need
more than just psychological help. Therapy can help us cope, but if we are
truly to break free from the grip of past pain, we need spiritual help…only the Divine Physician can heal our heart” (ix).
Remembering God’s Mercy is both a meditation and
exploration of Ignatian thought on memory, especially the thought of Pope
Francis. Eden structures the book around St. Ignatius of Loyola’s famous
Suspice Prayer, in which the saint offers his memory to God:
Take, Lord, and receive all my
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
an interview with Catholic World Report,
the author of My Peace I Give You, Remembering God’s Mercy, and The Thrill of the Chaste shares more
about how this prayer and Ignatian spirituality can provide healing for abuse
and trauma victims.
CWR: In your previous book, My Peace I Give You, you briefly discuss
the healing of memories as part of recovering from sexual abuse. Like so many
other readers of that book, I also wanted to learn more from you about the
healing of memory. I am excited to have your newest book, Remembering God’s Mercy, and learned a lot from my first read.
Dawn Eden: I’m so glad to hear that. That was my
hope in writing Remembering God’s Mercyto
help people better understand how Jesus heals and restructures our memories.
CWR: Memory is a tricky topic. Reading your
book, I was reminded of a line from Jane Austen’s Fanny Price in her novel Mansfield Park:
any one faculty of our nature may be called more
wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more
speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of
memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so
retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak;
and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a
miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem
peculiarly past finding out.” (II.4)
memory’s powers to be “particularly past finding out,” what approach did you
take in exploring the topic of memory, and why?
Eden: That’s an intriguing quotation! I
would say the intended audience for Remembering
God’s Mercy is those who find memory to be “tyrannic,” as Austen puts it.
They are readers who, like me, have times when they feel the effects of past
pain intrude into everyday life. I seek to help them by sharing the wisdom I
have learned from the Jesuit traditionthe same tradition that Pope Francis
transmits so beautifully in his homilies and writings. Jesuit spirituality is
wonderful for healing of memory because it shows me how to turn my imagination
into a friend rather than an enemy. Through the writings of Francis and the
Jesuits who inspired himespecially St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Peter FaberI
have learned that my memory, and all it contains, binds me to the love of Christ
in the most intimate way.
CWR: What particular challenges do victims
of abuse face when it comes to memory?
Eden: There is one effect of abuse that is
so common that, out of the hundreds of victims whom I have met since I began to
write and speak on healing, I have yet to meet a single one who did not suffer
from it. It is misplaced guilt and shamethe feeling that I am personally
responsible for the evils that were committed against me, or that they somehow
misplaced guilt and shame is a toxic lie that, sadly, often festers inside
victims through the course of their lives. It leads many of them to become
irrationally fearful of being discovered to have been victimized, so they avoid
seeking help. I have had men and women in their 70s or even older who come up
to me after my talks and tell me they have never told anyone about their abuse,
not even their spouses.
One of my
aims in writing Remembering God’s Mercy,
as well as my previous book My Peace I
Give You, was to help such victims see that they are not alone. When they
learn that there are saints who suffered trauma, anxiety, and depressionand
who found healing in Christit can motivate them to open up to another human
being about what they suffered. Then they have a chance of getting the
spiritual and psychological help they need.
CWR: I can see some people saying, “It’s in
the past. Why bring it up again?” How might you respond to someone with this
Eden: As you know, Rhonda, I don’t at all
recommend that readers relive painful memories. That’s not the spirituality of Remembering God’s Mercy. What I do is
help readers understand their lives within the context of the Paschal
MysteryJesus’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. That way, when painful
memories insinuate themselves, readers will be able to see them not as moments
of forsakenness and isolation but rather as moments of intimacy with Jesus, who
suffered every kind of trauma and is now radiant with healing grace.
CWR: You mention in your book that
psychological help can only go so far in healing memories. For the fullest
healing, one needs God’s grace and spiritual healing. How do spiritual
direction and psychological treatment work together?
Eden: Our Catholic faith teaches that,
although the spiritual takes precedence over the physical, the human person’s
body, mind, and spirit all work together. If we’re hurting emotionally, it also
affects us spiritually, and vice versa, so we need help for all areas of the
problem. A spiritual director can address our problems insofar as they affect
our spiritual well-being and our relationship with God, whereas a psychologist
can address them insofar as they affect our emotional well-being and our
relationships with other people.
CWR: For myself, I have a tendency to
approach my spiritual director in the same way I approach a therapist,
emphasizing my present psychological and emotional issues and then bringing up my prayer life. This
seems to me like the wrong approach to spiritual direction. Thoughts?
Eden: I don’t think that’s necessarily a
wrong approach if you are using your present psychological and emotional issues
as a lead-in to discussing your spiritual state. But it’s important to remember
that your spiritual director is not normally going to be the person you’ll consult
about navigating relationships with friends and family, unless he or she is a
psychologist as well.
CWR: What recommendations might you give to
spiritual directors who work with trauma sufferers? Are there approaches that
work better than others?
Eden: The best advice I can give to
spiritual directors who work with trauma sufferers is to avoid approaches such
as inner healing or other practicesI would include here certain types of
deliverance ministrythat involve reliving trauma and “inviting Jesus in.”
These approaches are tempting for some directors because they seem to promise a
quick fix. In practice, however, they often put trauma sufferers in a position
where they are likely to feel emotionally manipulated. When it comes to healing
from trauma, we should be very wary of quick fixes; that’s not the normal way
in which the Lord works. There is grace in the very slowness of healing, and we
shouldn’t discount that.
the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Stations of the Cross, or
the Seven Sorrows have shown themselves over the centuries to be powerfully
effective in helping people to heal over time. They work because, instead of
placing Jesus in the mysteries of the sufferer’s life, they place the sufferer
in the mysteries of Jesus’ life.
Those kinds of prayers are what helped me personally get out of my own
navel-gazing and discover the Lord’s greater purpose for my life.