Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Book Discussion: My Peace I Give You by Dawn Eden
This post is part of the Patheos Book Club round table discussion of Dawn Eden's new book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.
First of all, whether you have been a victim of sexual abuse or not, this book is fascinating.
Eden, herself having been victimized as a child, sought an advocate in Heaven as a part of her own healing process. When she couldn't find a particular patron saint for victims of sexual abuse, she dug a little deeper into the lives of some Saints revered for their chastity, and found that she had plenty of advocates in unlikely places. In each chapter, Eden highlights a particular saint and shows how their lives can be a guide to conversion and healing.
Hands down, this is the best book I've read on the lives of the saints. While she focuses mainly on each highlighted saint's quest for spiritual and physical purity and the times in their lives when they were most challenged in that area, she gives them all three dimensional lives and characteristics, makes their struggles so realistic, that they seem less like the cardboard prayer cards we're accustomed to seeing and more like flesh and blood friends in Heaven.
For me, this was the greatest strength of the book, understanding that sainthood has less to do with one's physical intactness, and more to do with the disposition of the soul. I learned about many saints of whom I had little or no knowledge: St. Josephine Bakhita, Blessed Laura Vicuna, Blessed Margaret of Castello, and St Bernard of Clairvaux, among others. And Eden's inclusion of Dorothy Day provided another perspective of hope for people who may not have suffered sexual abuse, but who nevertheless have sexual wounds that may have been self-inflicted during times in their lives when they lived away from God.
One quibble: I don't always agree with Eden's interpretation of certain events in the lives of the saints from which she extracts meaning for the purpose of healing sexual abuse. For instance, she describes Dorothy Day's parents as being cold and even neglectful because they discouraged signs of affection, and didn't allow the children much of a social life.
Earlier in the book, Eden describes her own childhood as being sexually porous, in that the adults in her life didn't protect her from inappropriate situations or materials, and how that caused her to adopt a false self that acted out sexually in order to gain confidence. In this case, she suggests that Day's starvation from affection caused her to also adopt a false self and act out in a sexually inappropriate way. I'm not sure Day's parents are accurately described as neglectful (Is it possible they were trying to protect their children from inappropriate behavior?)--and I'm also not convinced that they are the reason for her earlier immoral lifestyle.
I guess this is a touch point for me, because most of the inappropriate sexual behavior/ contact I encountered as a child came from other children. As a parent, I probably therefore discourage situations and interactions in which children, who are naturally curious about bodies, push the limits of appropriate behavior. This takes the shape of discouraging certain friendships, and generally promoting hands and mouth-free interaction with each other, whether it be positive or negative. Parents and other adults are not always the bad guy. Kids are capable of coming up with some bad ideas on their own.
I also don't see anything wrong with parents giving their kids a rather austere kiss goodnight, which Eden interpreted as "OK I kissed you, now go away." I'm not sure what the alternative to that would be. Back rubs? A longer kiss? (No thanks.)
For one thing, after an entire day with five children, I do sort of want them to go away. If it's neglect to feel as much, lock me up. Secondly, I don't go kissy-face on my kids much, except when they're babies--it just doesn't come naturally to me, or them, for that matter. I try not to brush off hugs, or hand-holding, or the occasional perch on my lap. But I do sort of guard my personal space, because it's mine. Mothers of many children share their bodies in ways unimaginable to a single person. I empathize with parents who don't necessarily want to continue that level of physical connection beyond two or three years from the womb.
I realize I spent half of this post talking about my quibble with one chapter--mainly because that's where I'm at right now. But really, Eden's book is a worthy read for anyone, not just victims of sexual abuse. And I sincerely hope that Eden has plans in the works for another book highlighting the lives of the Saints--perhaps a book for teens struggling with purity. I'd love for the saints to come alive for my kids in the way they did for me in this book.