In 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 memories—plagued until she saw God at work, healing them.
Many 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 liberty,
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 you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
In 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 Mercy—to 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:
“If 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)
Given 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 tradition—the 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 him—especially St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Peter Faber—I 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 shame—the feeling that I am personally responsible for the evils that were committed against me, or that they somehow stained me.
This 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 depression—and who found healing in Christ—it 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 objection?
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 Mystery—Jesus’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 practices—I would include here certain types of deliverance ministry—that 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.
By contrast, 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.
Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2010 / 11:33 am (CNA).-
Following professor Dr. Janet Smith's recent criticisms of author Dawn Eden's master's thesis critiquing Christopher West's approach to John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Eden responded on Friday, saying the professor “largely” misinterpreted the paragraphs cited.
Eden’s thesis – which gained public attention in June when she published her official defense – has sparked controversy among some Catholics, as it critically examines popular speaker Christopher West’s presentation of John Paul II’s teachings.
The author successfully defended her master’s thesis this past May 19 at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
In an article on the Catholic Exchange posted on Sept. 29, however, Dr. Janet Smith – who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit – offered a critique of Dawn Eden's thesis, saying she believed it to be “seriously flawed and may potentially do much harm.”
“I fear some people have taken a mere glance at her thesis, and since they are predisposed to accept her conclusions, they are dazzled by the number of quotations and footnotes into thinking that she has provided a worthy critique West’s work,” Smith wrote.
“Go to the sources that she cites and see if her representation of West’s views is accurate,” the professor said. “I think they will discover that Eden regularly distorts what West says.”
Smith added that in her opinion, it was unfortunate that Eden's thesis is “being used to attempt to thwart the work of Christopher West.”
In her article, the professor outlined and commented on multiple paragraphs from Eden's thesis, taking issue with Eden's criticisms of West's approach to certain Theology of the Body terms and also finding fault with what she believed to be Eden's “tone.” Smith also cited Eden's “faulty evidence,” “snide remarks” and “refusal to admit error” as points of contention.
Responding to Smith's criticisms in an e-mail to CNA on Friday, Eden said she was genuinely “honored” that the professor “would engage my M.A. thesis with such passion.”
“However,” Eden wrote, “I find Dr. Smith's essay confusing, in that she directly critiques only a few paragraphs of my thesis, which she largely misinterprets.”
“For example, she writes, 'Eden seems to disapprove of West’s claim that it is a major development in Catholic thought to say that the imago Dei is located 'not only in the individual man or woman but also (in the pope’s words) through the communion…which man and woman form right from the beginning.'”
“In fact,” said Eden, “nowhere do I 'disapprove' of Christopher West's saying that the pope's words express a 'dramatic development;' my thesis makes no judgment whatsoever on that claim.”
“By Mr. West's account, John Paul means that 'everything God wants to tell us on earth about who he is, the meaning of life, the reason he created us, how we are to live, as well as our ultimate destiny, is contained somehow in the meaning of the human body and the call of male and female to become 'one body' in marriage.' I maintain here and in my thesis that this interpretation of Mr. West's – with its inference that the male and female human bodies, understood within the call to marital union, contain within themselves the entire content of the mysteries of Christian faith – goes beyond the late Holy Father's words.”
Additionally, wrote Eden, “Dr. Smith's assessment reduces my thesis to a critique of a single author and speaker. On the contrary, my thesis demonstrates an overriding concern to critique a certain approach taken by West and his 'disciples' to interpreting recent teachings articulated by the Holy See.”
“In the wake of Vatican II, there were many who asserted that the open windows of the Council enabled a radical break that would bring fresh air inside a stale and fetid Magisterium.”
“It remains my contention,” she added, “that Mr. West and a number of popularizers formed by his catechesis – while intending to be faithful to Holy Mother Church – often use language disconcertingly similar to those propounding what Pope Benedict XVI calls a 'hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.'”
“I recognize that the paragraphs Dr. Smith cites from my thesis do not give full support to my contention on that point – because they are not meant to do so. The entire paper, taken as a whole, supports it, and I do not believe that her critique of a few paragraphs adequately or fairly assesses my work. I hope that readers of her essay will also read my thesis in its entirety – particularly the preface, in which I explain my reasons for writing it.”
“The real questions,” Eden said, “as I see them, are these: Where does the content and spirit of John Paul's Wednesday catecheses, taken as a whole, line up with what is being currently taught under the name “theology of the body” – or does it? To what extent does it help the instruction of the faithful to isolate these Wednesday catecheses – which John Paul II himself said were by their nature incomplete, omitting 'multiple problems' that belong to the theology of the body, such as 'the problem of suffering and death, so important in the biblical message' – and present them as a self-contained compendium of Church teachings on 'the meaning of life'?
“Having posed these questions, I will leave it to others to continue discussing them, as I have answered them in my thesis to the best of my ability,” Eden concluded. “Current commitments preclude my engaging in an extended public discussion. I do not intend to publish further responses to critiques of my thesis from anyone other than Mr. West himself.”