Thursday, 17 April 2014

My G-d, my G-d, why hast thou forsaken me - a reflection on the fourth word of Christ from the Cross


Midway.

We are now midway through the Via Crucis, that most harrowing of journeys, the point at which the reason for beginning a difficult journey can feel so long forgotten, and at which the end is nowhere in sight. It is the moment when looking back can show us how far we’ve come, give us a clearer idea of where we are, and offer us the courage to go forward – in the words of Caryll Houselander:

Now from the Cross, before his eyes are darkened, he can look back down that road which is indeed an image of the road through life of all those who will come after him.

He has known pain, exhaustion, apparent failure, shame; but it has not only been tragedy. He has known too the blessed dependence of a man upon other men; he has been helped by them and accepted their help; he has realised the joy and the light that comes to other men through helping him, above all through helping him to carry his cross. He has known compassion from the women he met on the way, compassion and the heroism it inspires – the women who blessed him openly with loud voices and Veronica who dared the mockery of the crowd and the authority of the armed guard to come close to him and wipe the tears and filth from his face.

He has known all these things and more in his Incarnation, and now he comes to the final experience that brings him to full humanity: despair.

We’re not comfortable with the idea that our Lord should despair, or feel darker emotions, such as rage or doubt. Look at how we glide over the rawness of Gethsemane, the rage of the cleansing of the temple, the despair of this moment.

Why? Because to acknowledge that G-d incarnate must descend into the abyss means that we ourselves cannot avoid it, however much we hope that our faith will allow us a spiritual bypass; however we weave our religion – whether through ornate liturgy or relentless positivity and ‘goodness’ – to create a neat, safe world and pretend that the darkness has no claim on us by calling it 'sin', and ourselves, when we avoid it, 'good'.

But to claim that despair is a sin is to claim that Jesus sinned on the cross. To claim that rage is a sin is to claim that Jesus sinned in the temple. To claim that doubt is a sin is to claim that Jesus sinned in Gethsemane. To deny the darkness that is part of us is to dishonour Our Lord – because it is to say that His humanity was a lie.

But the truth is that when we deny the existence of our darkness, claiming we feel none of it, it is our humanity, our faith, that is the lie.

Because there is no truer moment than now – the moment Jesus hangs on the cross in utter agony, midway through his harrowing journey, crying out to the Father, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’

The emptiness. The desolation. The inability to trust what is to come, to believe in what he has left behind, this descent into the abyss marks the final moments of his Incarnation in which he has lived the full experience of his people. He has laughed, he has grieved, he has been angry, he has loved, he has comforted, he has doubted…

…but only now does he despair, feeling abandoned by G-d, and in this moment, he has truly become fully human – truly felt as we have felt.

Because he despaired, falling all the way into the abyss, I was not alone that desolate night I put one leg over an 8th floor balcony railing, intending to swing the other over and fall into the car park below. You are not alone in your darkness. Because Christ felt as we felt, NONE of us are EVER alone.

He is with us in every joy, every sorrow, every ordinary moment. And because he experienced them, because he has walked the road, he shows us the way forward.

What does Jesus do in this moment of utter despair? He doesn’t attempt to be what he thinks G-d wants him to be; he doesn’t try to suppress his sense of abandonment; he doesn’t pretend to feel or be anything other than he is. He DOES stay in relationship - He speaks to His Father: “My G-d, my G-d, why hast thou forsaken me?” He brings his desolation to the Father, surrendering it, and in so doing, allows it to be transformed.

As Houselander noted, Christ’s road is the road for all of us who follow: when we allow ourselves to feel the darkness, giving it to G-d rather than trying to hide it behind our backs because we think it’s ‘bad’, when we admit we thirst and finally surrender, commending our spirit into G-d’s hands, new life will follow.

But that new life will not be like our old one; it will be something beyond our imagining, for acknowledging the darkness, risking the descent, allowing the surrender bring great gifts that change us at the deepest level. We may not know how, for that is part of the mystery, but we may get a glimpse in this exhortation to Christ often sung on Palm Sunday:

Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O G-d, thy power and reign.


Monday, 23 December 2013

The gift of giving into despair

Who’s telling the truth? Nearly everyone becomes a liar. Nearly everything becomes a betrayal. The journey of life becomes so insignificant that we seek only the dark — we dim our lights until we can no longer see. We can no longer feel...


This morning, after feeling balanced and open for months, the emotions I'd been holding in check to function - grief, the emotions that sit beneath being strong for others, soul-weariness - all came crashing down. I strongly suspect it's part of the forgiveness practice I'm working through: last night was 'Forgiving your feelings': so no surprise that, after decades of being marginalised, they decided to pour through the open door once it was cracked open.


Weeks ago, in a therapeutic discussion, I discovered that my core emotion wasn't anger, as I had thought, but despair. Today, that was what overwhelmed me. Finally, after years of  fighting it, I did something different. I stayed still and let the tsunami engulf me. 

And the oddest thing happened. As I went through my day, thinking 'It's all a lie,' I felt a profound sense of peace, even as I felt things I shouldn't:

I completely, irrevocably give up on them.

That friend will never be able to offer the emotional support I need, because they can't deal with my darkness.

She'll always play the victim even as she pretends not to; she's never going to change.

I actually believe that his part of this friendship is about needing me, not genuine affection and appreciation for who I am. I don't think he really sees or wants to see me. I'm done making the effort.

These people will always value status, money, and chase approval. Our core values will always be diametrically opposed. There's no point in engaging.

Why do I keep offering myself, my friendship, things that deeply matter to me to people who are utterly incapable of receiving it? WTF IS WRONG WITH ME? 

He's always going to charm his way through life and never discover who he really is. And because this is a shallow world that values appearance over substance, that is going to be reinforced.  What difference would reaching out make? I'll leave him to his long, slow, internal death. 

I don't care. 

They are only going to see what they want to see - why see a marriage, mother and child in trouble when you can pretend to see a perfect family? 

I will never get any better - life will continue to be bleak, joyless, and living my purpose and passion will continue to elude me, as will the love and connection I want more than anything.

I don't belong here.

Nothing I do makes a difference.

So, why am I here?

And so on.  

I felt the utter absence of hope. I let that be my truth; I acknowledged what was real. I didn't desperately scrabble for hope, thinking, 'I MUST hope, no matter what form it takes,' nor did I scrabble for faux Christmastide feelings; I left my hands by my sides. I let it overwhelm me.

It is still overwhelming me.

But I chose not to lie...and my usually sharp, blunt, German surrogate mum showed a surprising gentleness. My perpetually busy friend checked his motion and heard me, pulling me in for a quick hug that allowed for a much-needed lean against a safe shoulder - and was genuinely present, despite a hundred other things that needed doing.

These moments reminded me of Andrew Bunch's sermon at work's Wednesday chapel last week, when he spoke of the siege of Samaria and the nature of Advent hope. Advent hope, he said, comes when we are at the end of our rope - in the case of the siege, famine and women eating their children; that it often comes from those we despise - as it did from the lepers, who had nothing to lose and had taken the risk of entering the tents of the Syrian army, only to discover the siege broken; and that it is unexpected, miraculous, something we never could have expected - something that has room to happen because we haven't closed off possibilities by insisting that hope appear in a particular way. 

I await that extraordinary hope, but I remember that, as today's preacher reminded us, whilst the experience is exceptional, often, the manner is ordinary. That moment when a friend checks his motion and holds the space. That moment when you steel yourself for an expected 'Well, dear, just carry on, these things pass,' and instead get an affectionate look, a finger brushing across your cheek and a gentle, 'You're going to be ok,' from an unexpected quarter. In a song that offers you the only prayer left right now: But I offer all I am for the mercy of Your plan - help me be strong. Help me BE. Help ME.

Suddenly, you realise that THIS time, you've actually changed enough that you WILL let G-d help, because THIS time, you've finally offered your consent to getting lostWhich means that you finally trust that babe in the manger enough to step into those outstretched arms and let Him bring you home, even if you can't feel His love just yet. 

But you know that, as today's preacher noted, if you stay present to your life as it unfolds, the opportunities to love (and be loved by) G-d come over and over again. And if you stay present, you sense that in one of those encounters, just as you've finally consented to get lost, you'll finally feel - and truly know - you are loved. 

Real hope - not the manufactured, even desperate, hope we scrabble for to avoid the dark night of the soul bearing down on us...

...that is the gift of giving into despair and the long dark night.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Freedom, or, making sure (some) dreams don't come true

Dreams shouldn’t always come true, as we know. Sometimes, we can make sure they don’t.

Last night, a snippet of a long, involved dream had to do with a gorgeous, blue-patterned butterfly on top of a pool of water. I kept trying to rescue it before its wings got waterlogged, but suddenly it was camouflaged against a larger dress of the same pattern and I couldn’t find it. I searched desperately for it on the dress that was suddenly covering more than half the pool, catching glimpses of it being very still, then losing it. Finally, lifting the very heavy, wet dress out, I snapped it out in the air to release the butterfly. The susurration of wings from out of the dress made my heart lift, then I saw it was a grey owl, not the butterfly. I snapped out the dress again, just in case, but nothing.

With a heavy heart, I stepped out into a large garden as an announcement was being made about a close friend of mine. I can’t remember what it was, but I woke an instant later, a chest-wracking sob threatening to break out. It took a long time to be able to settle down to some semblance of dozing, which was all it was for the rest of the night.

I woke and showered, returning to a butterfly/moth (of a similar pattern to one in the office, who had appeared and hovered for days after my uncle died) fluttering wildly, trapped in the paper globe lampshade on the ceiling.

I sat down on my bed, in shock at the parallel to my dream. Then I committed – this would NOT end like the dream. I lifted the globe, trying to entice the butterfly out…no go. It would come as far as the bottom, creep around the edge cautiously, then go back to its panicked flying inside the globe. I laughed ruefully, the symbolism of how we stay in situations that imprison us, come to the edge of freedom and go back in to what we know, not lost on me. To quote Rachel Remen from My Grandfather’s blessings:


I was surprised: "But they were suffering, Grandpa. Why didn’t they want to go?"

My grandfather looked sad. “They knew how to suffer,” he told me. “They had done it for a long time and they were used to it. They did not know how to be free.”

I was shocked. “But what about the Promised Land, Grandpa? Wasn’t it true?”

“Yes, it was true, Neshume-le, but the choice people have to make is never between slavery and freedom. We will always have to choose between slavery and the unknown.”


And that butterfly, like us, at the edge of the unknown, chose slavery, again and again. One moment, when I saw its still silhouette through the lantern, my heart stopped, afraid that real life would end like last night’s dream.

I was damned if it would. I lifted the globe to disturb its torpor, and finally, enough to force it out, holding my hand against the opening at the bottom as it beat against me, desperate to return. Finally, it settled on the outside of the globe, climbing up. Once it was high enough not to be able to return too easily, I went and flicked off the light, then opened the curtains, making the grey dawn the brightest part of the room.

I stood by my bedroom door in the reluctantly lightening near-solstice morning, willing the butterfly to move, my heart lifting as it landed on the net curtain. I leapt across the room, pushing open my window, pulling down the net curtain to try to force it over the top. Resisting, the butterfly went sideways. I laughed, saying, ‘Trying to take down your defences too soon, am I? Ok, you lead.’

I waited, and when its tiny, insect leg brushed the top of the net curtain, I pulled the curtain down far more gently than the first time, coaxing rather than insisting – out of my own panic, my own need to change the ending of the dream – that it set itself free.

In the next instant it was on the window pane, a heartbeat later it flew out, finally free.

I choked back another sob, a happy one – suddenly realising what my deepest commitment was: freedom. Mine and others’. I may have often misunderstood what freedom is; my understanding of it continues to evolve and deepen, knowing it has as many faces as those who experience it, generated from the same bedrock of truth and love – and it is to fostering that freedom in all that my vocation lies: as a teacher, as a therapist, as the pastor I’ve always felt the calling to be, as the person I’m becoming.

For to be committed to freedom is to be committed to life truly and deeply lived, in whatever form that takes. L’chaim.

I often thought – and I suspect it was true, at first – that my passion for freedom came from growing up in a country that proclaimed it, in escaping a family that tried to enslave. And in the moments where I am fighting desperately, I still feel that. But even as I have known that my ways of being - my tendency to force things into the open; to use anger to transform; to speak out (rarely with the greatest of tact) in places where acting in was the norm; to push for depth and authenticity – that all these things were forged in a difficult family, I have also known that my passion for freedom was woven into every cell, was breathed into me by the G-d who knit me in the womb and called me by name. I have always known that it had a deeper purpose, and again, Rachel Remen – or rather, her grandfather, calls it by name:

“Why does G-d come Himself, Grandpa?”

“Ah, Neshume-le, many people have puzzled over this question and have thought many different things. What I think is that the struggle toward freedom is too important for G-d to leave to others. And this is so because only the people who become free can serve G-d’s holy purposes and restore the world. Only those who are not enslaved by something else can follow the goodness in them.”


That is why.

And though I may fight for it, push myself and others towards it, force the truth into the open, hold the space for others to find their way, it is G-d who comes down and leads – whether a butterfly finding its way out the window or someone leaving an abusive situation of many years’ standing.

Our nightmares need not define us – not every dream needs to come true.

That is the freedom to which we are called - and when we answer 'Yes,' choosing the unknown - to which we are led, by none other than G-d Himself.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

My...

shortest post ever

Current state: as melted as snow in the Sahara.

Monday, 4 November 2013

A letter to Lou on her anniversary

Dear Lou,

It’s been a long time.  So long, I’m not sure you’d recognise the girl - almost too young to be working a suicide hotline, but already so very weary - you took under your wing.

But then again, maybe you would – because in that short time our lives intersected, you played a huge part in the woman I became.

It’s hard to know where to start, you know? There’s so much I want to say, so much I understand now that I didn’t then, so many questions I want to ask that I didn’t then. But most of all, I want to give you the chance to shelter under my wings – the adult wings that can now hold as much space as you need – needed – for as long as it takes.

I can’t give you – nor do you need – the shelter I can offer now that I couldn’t then, because I had to grow into it. But I can sit with you, on this day of your anniversary - much as Will and Lyra did in their different worlds – and talk to you.  I hope that’s ok.

First of all, thank you. Thank you for being you – for being there. For being able to see past the rage and for daring to stick your arm through it to the hurting girl beneath. Thank you for listening, so often and so completely – and without judgment. Your faith in me, in my ability to face situations – both small and large – meant the world and made a universe of difference to my life.  Things got better in small ways: I remember hearing your Carolina drawl behind me on that December day, a little over a month after you died, after my biochem exam, saying, “Good job. I’m so proud of you.” I got the highest grade in the class.

And because you trusted me to handle the small things, you made it possible for me to go for the big ones: 3 months and 4 days after your death, I moved out of my parents’ house, leaving them a note on the fridge.

Despite the struggle; the immense pressure from my parents to move back home; the overwhelming depression that roared to the surface when I was no longer constantly fighting my family and led me to put my leg over the 8th floor balcony railing one December night; my father ringing me on my birthday and asking, ‘So, how are you paying your rent? Are you sleeping with your male friends?’ – despite all that, it was the best decision I ever made. My life truly became my own that day.

There are no words to thank you for being one of the incredible, loving people who made it possible for me to make that choice.

But that’s not all there is to say – some things are darker, more painful. Yet they need to be spoken aloud.

Never will I forget that Saturday morning, having arrived on shift and hearing that one of the Child Protection line workers had committed suicide; looking up in horrified curiosity asking, ‘Who?’ and hearing your name.  Even now, I can feel the full physical agony, as if someone was ripping out the inside of my solar plexus, and I want to scream all over again.

Yes, even now, the memory feels like this morning's.

The fury was like a wildfire through a forest that hadn’t seen rain in years – rage at you for making the choice you did, then telling the police officers who knocked at your door that you were fine, only to die hours later; rage at myself for being someone who worked a suicide hotline but hadn’t seen it in you; rage at G-d for letting you do this.  I hated you so much. SO much.

I was absolutely functional within minutes:  I did a full hotline shift;  in the evening, it was off to  parental friends for dinner – my parents had no clue anything was wrong, and to this day they have no idea that I had a friend who committed suicide.  The price was dear, but there was no way I was going to become the paralysed, incapable of functioning, manipulative energy-sucker my mother became whenever a painful situation arose.

I did it by being angry, as I still do occasionally when I need emotional reserves I simply don’t have; I stoked my rage at you: I didn’t go to your memorial service; I refused to grieve you; I imagined shouting, ‘WHY???? WHY????????? HOW FUCKING DARE YOU???????? SCREW YOU, BITCH!’ at you so many times. Then I just wanted to pretend you never existed, had never found a way into my heart, had never been, for far too brief a time, the mother I needed. I wanted to gut your room in my heart and redecorate so I could pretend I’d never been touched. After all, YOU took yourself out of my life, so *I* would make it so you had never been in it.

But love wouldn’t have it: it was your voice I heard that December day…and so many days after.  Even now, sometimes.

Even now, echoes remain. I freak out during sustained arguments: what if something happens before we resolve this? ‘Are you ok?’ litters my vocabulary like kebabs on the pavement on a Saturday morning. Good friends *have* to say goodbye before extended absences, or the panic squeezes my heart till I can’t breathe, because I can’t forget the day I poked my head into your room across the hall and didn’t hug you because you had your back to me, cutting out a pattern – it didn’t matter because I was supposed to see you again. I didn’t.  My parents made me exquisitely aware of subtext and emotional resonances, you honed my edge for catching the leading edge of depression, of the slip into the suicidal. It was from you I learned that depressed to suddenly light of heart was not something to be relieved at; it was something to be terrified of, something to interrogate.

Every last one of these is a scar, but every last one of these is a gift: even if I'm absolutely certain I’m right, I’ll put my  hand out to reconcile; my friends know I want to know how they really are; the people I love know I love them; and that therapeutic awareness means I’ve asked the right questions more than once.

Out of darkness, light.

And what if you were here now, and we could just talk; or if you’d been here all these years? Would we have stayed in touch, or would there have been a natural letting go? Would we have become women who genuinely liked each other and shared confidences, rather than a surrogate mother sheltering a wayward chick?

I don’t know. But I know where I’ve been – and I can talk to you about that.

Thirteen months after you died, I was where you were – and made a different decision when the question ‘What right have you to take yourself out of other people’s lives?’ came to/was asked of me. In that moment, I remembered what it felt like when you took yourself out of mine, and knew I couldn’t do it to anyone else, and pulled my leg back over that railing. So, a second time, you made me own my life.

It wasn’t the only time – I’ve been there a number of times since, though not so often in recent years.  I’ve always made the same decision, though I don’t know if I always will, because sometimes bringing an end to that pain is so desperately tempting  – we never know, do we? The moment I realised that uncertainty about each time that – or any other – decision looms, I understood.

And I let go – the one time, perhaps, I’ve truly forgiven (both of us and G-d) but not forgotten.

The years since you’ve been gone haven’t always been easy, though there have been many blessings, much laughter and incredibly wonderful friends alongside the darker times spent struggling with inner demons that created outer heartache and pain. So many things I’d loved to have discussed with you: men, religion, life, some of my absolute clangers of decisions, growing up…but above all, your life. Your experience. I’d have wanted to get to know your heart, as you’d begun to know mine. And I think you’d have loved visiting Oxford…so much older than antebellum Carolina ;-).

Oh Lou, you’ve been gone so much longer than the length of time we knew each other, but I miss you so much. You taught me that 30 minutes or 30 years doesn’t matter – love does.

I love you.

And I hope I’ve done you proud. 

Fried chicken and pecan pie,
Me


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Dream log: Dragonflight

This afternoon, I went into hiding in my bedroom to read and reflect, but found myself passing out within 10 minutes (fortunately, I always set my alarm for 2 hours after I come upstairs for just that reason).

I am, as anyone who has read this blog is aware, a prolific and vivid dreamer. When I nap, I drop straight into very vivid dreams within seconds. This afternoon, they started with the mundane heading for the ridiculous until suddenly, I was dropping through the clouds. As I passed a white tower with an antenna, I thought, 'Oh, I'm dropping into Jo'burg! Okay.' 

As I fell, I realised I was performing somewhere as part of a group - whether that was a conference, a speech, stand up comedy, who knows. As soon as my feet hit the ground in Jo'burg, I was off again, landing somewhere along the southern coast - on a stunning white sand beach with the ocean to my left, grassy dunes to my right, mountains in the distance and a small crowd behind me. As I began to run, I heard a friend's surprised voice behind me: 'What are YOU doing here?'

Without turning, I answered that I was there to perform with [group's name].

He responded, surprise and new respect colouring his voice, 'I didn't know you were one of them!'

'Yes, I am.' Grinning, so he'd hear the smile and the warmth/intended cheek, I continued, 'There's a lot you don't know. I'll see you tomorrow,' as I took off. It was bright daylight, but the sun had passed its zenith and was beginning to drop in the west. 

At twilight, I found myself on a mountain, looking down at a breathtaking city cradled by mountains on one side and open to the ocean on the other, watching the lights come on, mesmerised - fully understanding Cape Town's reputation as one of the most beautiful places in the world. With glee and fierce exultation, because I could, I ran off that mountain and jumped, knowing I would fly. I soared above the city, revelling in the beauty below me, exquisitely aware of how I was working every air current - but I felt like me; I didn't know what I was.  I went through various birds, but none felt right - my wings felt too large or the wrong shape. 

I flew out over the water, hoping to catch my reflection. It wasn't till I flew back inland and over a large puddle (not quite a lake!) that I realised I was a dragon. Idly (and vainly, I suppose), I wondered what colour I was, and the answer came: 'You are the colour of sunset flame.' Of course. I flew at twilight; what other colour was there? 

Finally, I reluctantly descended,  landing near a cave where I would spend the night before going down into the city as a human for various appointments and the performance. Cosy and dry, it was crowded with dragons doing the same - essentially a dragon hostel. I asked one of autumn gold to move over so I could have a bit of room; he did so with alacrity and I curled up to sleep. 

Then I woke up here, feeling my dragon shape melting off me. 

(Shortly thereafter watching two shows with unexpected dragon references...) 

I'll take another one of those, please... 

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Persephone, Ogboinba, Cybele, Oya: or, What Samhain can do for you, pt II

(If you missed Pt I, you'll want to start here.)

And fell for the longest time.

Persephone. Ogboinba. Cybele. Oya.

With the exception of Oya, who wasn't drawn, but jumped out of the deck, not a single one of those goddesses was mine. 

Persephone was where it began. I sat back, curious to see how she had been interpreted:

Persephone, the Maiden. Find ways to use your innocence as your strength.She is for innocence, and you had yours taken from you much earlier than it should have been, and I think she is here to point out that you need to explore your relationship with that. But there's something else here, something about how you've felt towards that self, maybe? I'm not sure, but I get this feeling that she's here to point to an anger, or even something darker, that you feel to the part of yourself that is vulnerable.

So easy. It would have been so easy to pull back from that, tell her she was wrong whilst acknowledging that 'Yes, I do need to tap into my innocence and vulnerability to be stronger as per Brene Brown, blah blah. Thank you for this, but I might be just a bit angry about it all, but really, I'm just fine.' *Good Mother Demeter airy handwave*

But to do that would have been to continue the lie, to deny the tidal wave of feeling emerging, to make the choice to continue my parents' work and remain disconnected from others. The time had come to make a different choice and speak the truth. But as it always is when I lose myself in writing, I'm never sure what that truth is till I read it back:

Fuck. YES... I am SO angry. Yes, you're right. I've hated Persephone since I was a child, because she pranced around picking flowers doing girly shit FEELING SAFE and HA! LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO HER, SEE, YOU STUPID NAIVE BITCH???? And then she tried to trick her way out OF WHAT SHE DESERVED BECAUSE SHE WAS TOO STUPID TO KEEP AN EYE OUT. As far as I was concerned, she was weak. I wanted NO part of her in Jean Shinoda Bolen's book, NONE. SHE was weak. *I* was not. Fucking Kore.

And that's how I've felt about my vulnerability: not just ANGRY at it, but repelled by it. At some level, part of me thinks that vulnerable child got exactly what she deserved because she wasn't looking. Like Persephone.


I typed out the full comment, not fully aware of what I was saying till I sat back and read it. Again. And again. 

Horrified. Shaken. But finally knowing the truth: 

I'd always blamed Persephone for her rape, because of her innocence, her freedom from care (which I equated with irresponsibility) and her lack of vigilance. And in the same way, I blamed the child I'd been, her vulnerability and lack of vigilance, for her parents' emotional abuse and her uncle's sexual abuse.

MY. MY PARENTS. MY UNCLE.

And yet, I'd rip the throat out of anyone who dared suggest that a child was in any way at fault for any abuse that befell them; that a woman was at fault for being raped. But somehow, it was ok to blame the child I was for not being stronger, more vigilant, for not acting.

I'm just starting to cope with that. As I continued in my comment, 'Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I knew it was bad, but.'

And in the moment I realised what I'd done, I finally understood the truth about innocence, which I'd conflated with naivete and wilful ignorance:

[W]hat strikes me about innocence is that it is a NATURAL state. Like Cybele's wildness. And in my rage at my NATURAL innocence, twisting it into a reason for being abused, I cut myself off from my NATURE as a whole. That's why I don't know who I am outside this identity of helper; what my gifts are; what my intuition says for ME; why I'm not in touch with my wild side, as it were - why it's only the responsible, CONTROLLED side that shows.There's so much in my nature I'm not even aware of, such primal, passionate, wild side - Cybele, who Persephone really needs to grow into, not her more controlled mother (hence no Demeter in this reading, because she is very much part of my persona, and this reading is about who I REALLY am underneath it all, the parts I don't know).

In my vulnerability, my innocence, is my wildness - and my way. As Clarissa Pinkola-Estes put it, 'The wild has a vast integrity to it.' And that is what I have cut myself off from - and why I find it so hard to move.


It is why I have never found this - which I desire more than anything - because to have that intimacy - emotionally, spiritually and sexually - one needs to be able to truly surrender, to truly let go - to become vulnerable and trust. To be wild, natural. And I can't. I'm not easily held, even - perhaps most especially - in the deepest pain and despair. 

But perhaps yesterday made a start. Time will tell. 

Persephone and Cybele, anchoring the reading because they were the overarching theme: innocence, nature, wild, integrity. 

As my friend pointed out, we ALL start from the Kore. For me to deny the Kore, yet accept Persephone, Queen of Hades and conveyor of the dead, is to deny my process, my wholeness, and in the end, myself.

That should have been enough, might have been, but Ogboinba appeared in the reading. I had a hunch she would, and she has always been the one I'd rather not see. The short version of her story is that though her powers grew and she became the most sought-after healer and prophetess, she could not have children, and travelled seven kingdoms to seek a way to become able to bear a child and become a mother.

The warning against discontent is too close to the bone, as is the desire for children - both of these make her an apparently easy read when she shows up for me. 

But as I fell into that literal reading, I felt an intense resistance. This wasn't right, and I knew it wasn't just avoidance. I sat with it for a while, asking Ogboinba what she wanted to say here. When the answer came, it shifted the ground under my feet, which will never be the same again:

I could see that [about the child], but I thought, 'Yeah, we know that about me. But this isn't quite about that.'

And then I realised - in this case, the child Ogboinba is looking for is ME. Me as a child who grew up in a happy family; me the undamaged child, the child who was allowed to BE a child. In essence, she is me, travelling over the world again and again, searching for that halcyon childhood I wanted so desperately, the only way I ever believed that I would find out who I was. Searching for the safety, the love, the time to become who I was, to have that group, those people who loved me unconditionally, in whom I could rest.

In my hands were all these gifts born in the crucible of my family - the ability to see, the ability to heal, the ability to know, the incredible strength, problem-solving, the empathy, the ability to use anger as a tool - my arms were overflowing with gifts.

But *I* wanted home. I was FURIOUS at having these gifts; furious that I would HAVE TO USE THEM, be a COMMODITY to the DIVINE, like I was a COMMODITY to my parents. I KNEW, when I asked you last night, that Ogboinba was going to show up; I knew it.

And when I read what you wrote about Ogboinba, this RAGE filled me; this UTTER FURY worthy of Oya. I thought, 'HOW DARE YOU. HOW DARE YOU DEMAND OF ME WHEN YOU GAVE ME *NOTHING*. NO PLACE TO REST, NO PLACE TO BE LOVED, NO SANCTUARY. HOW. FUCKING. DARE. YOU. I REFUSE. YOU *OWE* ME. WHY? WHY SHOULD I PUT MYSELF OUT FOR YOU?

"I WOULD HAVE GIVEN BACK EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE GIFTS TO BE LOVED. TO FIND MY BESHERT AND BE MARRIED AND RAISE CHILDREN AND HAVE A QUIET LIFE. EVERY SINGLE ONE. BUT YOU GIVE ME NOTHING AND HAVE THE NERVE TO DEMAND SO FUCKING MUCH. I HATE YOU. I DON'T WANT THIS AND I WILL NOT USE IT OF MY OWN ACCORD. YOU WANT ME TO USE IT, YOU'LL HAVE TO FUCKING PULL IT OUT OF ME."

THAT, for me, is the essence of Ogboinba here. I want what I can never, ever get back; what I can never ever be. I hold all this given me, all that I've made out of it, but I want to be able to be that laughing little girl; that girl who walked into adulthood certain of love. That girl who grew up playing with fashion, clubbing, experimenting, loving college and forming lifelong friendships even through the angst. And I haven't seen that I've gotten so much, but not in the way I wanted.

Finally, finally, years after I should have done, I did what I tell everyone else they should do. I told G-d the truth, no holds barred - everything that was in my heart, everything raw and wild, not pre-processed and analysed in a neat little 'Yes, I know I'm upset about this, and this is why, so it's ok' package. It wasn't okay. It still ISN'T ok. It may NEVER be ok.

But you know what? That's ok.

Because as all that was ripped out - my solar plexus STILL feels sore - and released, something else took its place.

Connection. I finally FELT G-d. And I finally felt ME.

I did one more long overdue thing: I wept. I wept for the little girl I was, the one I wanted to be, the woman I'd wanted to become, the woman I am. 

At long last, I was home.

The Samhain Prelude, or What Samhain can do for you, pt. I

I knew it was Samhain week. Really, I did. And I knew things were shifting. But I didn't expect to do much more than small adjustments. I mean, I know I'd been making a practice of every morning (yes, just in case I forgot to do it before I left the house, I have an Outlook reminder set) of saying a prayer - or several - akin to this beautiful one by Tosha Silver that I've tweaked a bit:

Dear G-d, take me over and do what You will with me.
I am Yours alone.

Just 
take me over and do what You will with me. 
Fill the space between us. Make Me Yours.

Change me into One who surrenders to You and trusts in Your way for me.

You, who have numbered every hair on my head and called me in the womb, who from the body of my mother named my Name, You know me far better than I know myself; You know my true Way. Lead me.  You lift my burdens. You know every longing and fear in my heart. You show the way even in the dark.

I am Yours.
You are Mine.
We are One.

All is well.


Just needed to keep on keeping on with that and I could carry on in cruise control, give or take a few steering corrections, right? 

Oh so wrong. Because when you ask G-d to change you, G-d's going to take you at your word and do it. His way, not yours. And if you're someone with a leaning towards Kali and with Oya as your orisha, it ain't going to be a walk in a pretty meadow on a halcyon summer day. I mean, as a Kali/Oya girl, why would I want that when I can have a stormy winter North Sea, Eyjafjallajökul or monsoon season, right? Oy vey.

I'd been saying that prayer for a week, people. A FREAKING WEEK.

Little did I know that when I gave a good friend the advice, 'Process your emotions, NOT events' (i.e., your feelings are where the truth is, processing events is being a gerbil on a wheel; you'll end up re-creating events that kick up the same feelings until you listen to what they have to say) that I'd be thrown into that crucible myself less than 72 hours later.

There had been signs that this was coming. The student who came up to me and introduce himself, and we ended up bonding intensely over not having talked to our parents (his father for 30 years, both of mine for 9) and the pain in that, no matter how close or distant you were. That I needed Hecate as my profile picture for the two weeks leading up to Samhain. That I needed more space; had even less tolerance for small talk; got home wanting to zone out, not talk. That fewer and fewer male friends could touch me without my flinching. The rising panic as I kept turning over 'I don't know who I am if I'm not taking care of someone. Who am I? What do I want? Am I ANYTHING outside of that?'

Leading you down into my core where I’ve become so numb
Without a soul, my spirit's sleeping somewhere cold
Until You find it there and lead it back home


There may be trouble ahead would have been the warning; Evanescence's Bring me to life the soundtrack.

I'm a therapist. Signs like that should make me stop and listen. Friends telling me my energy was chaotic should have made me stop and listen. They didn't. 

So Kali and Oya took things into their own hands.

Breathe into me and make me real
Bring me to life


A therapeutic conversation about how my parents alternately idealised/demeaned me and moved to prevent me from genuinely and deeply connecting with anyone outside the immediate family (always the hallmark of a toxic/abusive group dynamic) started the ground shifting under my feet. I felt the tremors, prepared for the usual situations highlighting them to come up; made the choice to process with a couple of close friends.
One was what was expected.

The other friend surprised me when she said, Damn it, now I want to pull Goddesses for you.

My eyebrows went up. That WASN'T usual. We carried on chatting, and at the end of the conversation, I said, If you want to pull Goddesses for me at some point this week, I wouldn't be averse.

When I woke up in the morning, she'd done the reading. I waited till I got to work before reading it through, having expected the usual Demeter/Brigid/etc. goddesses that tend to qualify as 'mine'. You'd think I'd have learned by now.

Persephone. Ogboinba. Cybele. Oya.

As I read, I felt the winds whipping through, the surf rising, the storm coming. I looked for a hand to hold, for sanctuary, for shelter. From the conversation the night before, it was clear to me I couldn't ask the other friend to hold the space for what was coming, to hold the coming intensity. I frantically searched my inner circle for those who could hold the intensity, pull me up, those I could reach out to and dismissed the choices because of where they were in their own lives. Then I looked at where they would try to pull me into - a brightly lit room, warm, safe, calm...but tame. Status quo. And I knew the price was far too high to pay. There was only one choice.


Frozen inside without Your touch
Without Your love, darling
Only You are the life among the dead


Like Amy Lee, I let go of the hands of those who would pull me to safety - but only by holding me in place - and kicked back off the narrow ledge, falling into the abyss, trusting in the Unseen.