A friend of mine recently recommended that I read the new book by Dawn Eden, entitled, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. (Her first book, which I haven’t read, is likely also to be of help to many in our sex-saturated society: The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On.) Anyway, even though—thank God—I don’t personally have sex-abuse issues in my past, I read the book to see if it might be a helpful resource for those who come for spiritual guidance with similar problems. I gave my first copy away before I even quite finished the book.
Dawn is open (but not graphic) about her experiences of being sexually abused as a child, and while this phenomenon is all too common today, her approach to healing is quite uncommon—also uncommonly refreshing and, I’m sure, spiritually fruitful. While she did rely on psychological counseling (before she entered the Church; her spiritual pilgrimage runs the gamut from Jew to Protestant to Catholic), it was not always helpful and sometimes downright harmful. For example, a well-known New York City psychiatrist’s “therapy” consisted not in helping her heal from the wounds and subsequent inappropriate persona she adopted, but rather in trying to get her to eliminate every last sexual inhibition she might still have! She still recommends psychotherapy if one can find a good Catholic counselor, but she has recourse to another avenue of healing that many would not even think of: the saints.
Each chapter of her book deals with a different aspect of divine love and a different saint or saints who illustrate this aspect from their own experiences of abuse, neglect, or some sort of trauma. So recovery from the debilitating effects of the wounds of sexual abuse is all about true love, God’s love, Mary’s love. Sexual abuse is a gross distortion of the meaning of love (it really has nothing to do with it at all), so one has to learn about genuine love, and to experience it, so that one can know that one is not alone in pain and shame, because of others who have experienced the same. So there are chapters like “The Love that Heals,” “The Love that Liberates,” “The Love that Suffers,” “The Love that Shelters,” “The Love that Transforms,” etc.
Dawn has learned a lot about life and love and suffering from the saints, and she has benefitted immensely by not only reading and reflecting on the stories of their lives and struggles and victories, but also by personally engaging with them in prayer. In fact, it was through her leap of faith to invoke the intercession of St Maximilian Kolbe that she was finally convinced that the Catholic Church held the true faith, and she shortly entered the Church. She writes: “Reading of the saint’s great love affected me beyond words… I swallowed my pride and began speaking to Maximilian as I would speak to a friend: ‘Dear St. Maximilian, I’m in trouble, I’m about to get fired, please pray for me…’ I think that is as far as I got. The next thing I remember is feeling overwhelmed by a great whoosh! It was as though grace rushed down from heaven—a comforting, embracing, protective grace, like being in the eye of a hurricane. Suddenly I knew with inexplicable certainty that… I was going to be all right, because asking St. Maximilian’s prayers had realigned me with the will of God. In that moment, the Church’s teaching on the Communion of Saints was opened up to me. With amazement, I realized how wrong I had been about asking saints’ prayers. How certain I had been that such petitions would distance me from God! Instead, they drew me closer to him, by drawing me closer to a holy person who was united to him.”
The book is very readable and engaging, and you will learn much you didn’t know—and not only about the personal struggles and the healing and wisdom gained by Dawn Eden [what a lovely name, by the way; the only one I know that rivals it is that of my young friend Natasha Sweet; but I digress]. You will learn about the experiences of many saints, their real stories and real wounds—not just varnished hagiography—and you will learn how having recourse to them can help those suffering with ancient scars from past abuse. It is an edifying read even if you don’t need to apply it to specific situations in your own life or that of your loved ones, though chances are almost all of us know someone who was sexually abused as a child or adolescent.
Peace is offered by Our Lord, as is healing. It is neither an easy nor a quick process, but one’s attempt at recovery does not have to play out in interminable psychotherapy sessions, re-living past traumas or settling for soul-numbing medications. There’s a light from Heaven that brings understanding as well as peace and healing. There’s a way into the wounded heart, a way that leads to the Pierced Heart of Christ, a way upon which Our Lady and the saints can lead us, if we invite them into our struggles, our pain, and our hope. Dawn Eden sets this out clearly and cogently, and her own life is a testimony that one’s life need not be permanently wrecked by past experiences.
I’ll close with a passage about the way Christ through the Holy Eucharist also brings healing and robs past evils of their power: “In the prayer of the Mass… the priest prays for deliverance from past, present, and future evils as he holds the paten containing the consecrated Host. Through the Eucharist, not only is my present and future life ‘hidden with Christ’ [see Col. 3:3], but my past as well. The evil of my past is still evil, but it no longer has any power over me. All that remains of it are my wounds. Now I can look at the Crucified One—broken like me—as the priest holds the Host, and those same wounds become a point of entrance for his body, blood, soul, and divinity…”
What the Lord offers in order to make all things new is not something that can be found outside of Him and his Church. “My peace I give you,” said Jesus, “not as the world gives do I give to you…” (Jn. 14:27).