A little while back, Todd Akin, (R) Congressman from Missouri, stepped in doo-doo in a major way with his comments about rape and pregnancy. And yes, if you know what I am talking about, you know “doo-doo” is likely a much more gentle way of describing things than perhaps other words floating around.
Here’s what Akin said of a pregnancy caused by rape. “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.” (Heavy sigh).
At the time I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that a grown man, in the 21st century, with technology, education and medicine available as never before in human history, could actually think this – AND BELIEVE IT. Like every woman I know, I was pissed, disgusted and saddened.
As I sat with all of this swirling around inside my head and heart, I realized I felt overwhelmingly powerless too. I was powerless to make those who defended him understand, powerless to make HIM realize the damage that would ensue as a result of what he had said, powerless to help women who have been raped from reliving their trauma just by hearing his words, powerless to ease their pain and shame that undoubtedly would emerge. And, of course, even powerless to understand him.
This is what I know. Feeling powerless is debilitating. It can rob you of knowing your true value, of connecting to your innate worth, which is goodness. This is the ultimate price of rape. In case you didn’t know, rape is a crime of power and control, it has nothing to do with sex. During the rape, you are robbed of all power over your body. If you have never been raped, you may not be able to even understand the idea of having someone else completely in control of your physical being, without your consent, completely devoid of conscious volition. It is only in this moment of having absolutely NO control or power that you learn just how much power you did have the moments preceding the rape.
Then comes the most damaging piece, you are robbed of inner power, that power that comes from not just BEING a part of something larger, but knowing that you ARE a part of something larger, that you matter and you belong. At first being powerless is lonely, confusing and overwhelming. Soon, under the weight of self-disgust, what emerges is its sibling, shame. It takes root, builds a home, sometimes a whole village, and puts up billboards in your mind and heart, some with neon lights, to remind you that you are indeed something to be used and tossed aside.
As the days, months and years pass, unconscious mantras and messages can flow as easily and as involuntarily as the blood through your heart or the air through your lungs. Shame literally becomes the life force driving everything you do or don’t do. Shame becomes the veil through which you look at life, dimly and darkly, with eyes averted toward the ground and the head held just a little bit lower than the day before. The body is no longer something delicate, beautiful and precious or something to be enjoyed with passion and tenderness. Instead is becomes something needing to be scrubbed clean and hidden from public view.
For many years my mantra sounded something like this, “Oooh – fat, ugly and stupid aren’t we?” Every time I looked around the world and saw a beautiful woman, a couple being loving, a small child in the arms of their mother or father, or ANYTHING that reminded me of what I didn’t have, I returned to my billboard – that I didn’t have those things because I was fat, ugly and stupid.
If I looked at myself in a mirror for any length of time I could see the outline of a person, but the details were distorted. The edges of my face were charred, dark and ragged. My eyes were sunken and lifeless, certainly no twinkling or awe and wonder alive in my eyes. The most difficult part is that I had twisted something horrible, violent and outside my control into a belief that indeed I was useless and empty, so that is what I saw AND that is what I thought was true. That’s how you relive a rape.
You begin to anticipate what will happen next, afraid of the future, or you wind up dwelling in the past – what was, what could have been or might have been. Unfortunately neither place will help you know what it means to be truly alive, to once again know your value and innate worth, to have a sense of power in your world. The future is merely an idea, and the past can’t be undone – the present moment is all that is real. It is the only place I can live if I am to have any hope of taking down the billboards left behind by some stranger in my village, or foreclosing on the mortgage I have been holding for shame for so long.
The present moment is not a fixed time or place, it is never “done.” In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, it is “still arriving.” It is diaphanous, delicate and translucent because it is always just becoming, always a moving point of light where all creation is simply hinting at being visible. It is in these moments that I witness my life, no longer a spectator from afar, which is what I am when I look to the past or anticipate the future for too long. From this vantage point I find my salvation, because I have found my inner power once again in knowing that everything is done, imagined, spoken, believed and thought by me. It is only in the present moment where all is unfolding in me, through and as me – whether through a veil darkly, or through the gossamer wings of still arriving.
I listen with my heart, I still struggle with the reflexes of my mind, yet the pain of those knives from so long ago, are dulling with each passing day. Who among us, when touching a hot stove, doesn’t immediately recoil and retreat to soothe the burn with cold water? It is the natural response to pain. But the deep, exquisite risk is to humbly lift the veil of shame that was draped so long ago, that I fearfully kept myself wrapped up in, and let life touch me, refresh me, renew me and rearrange me.
When I can see things as they are and accept the invitation to courageously witness the landscape of life, its wonders and horrors as one, not as a spectator but as a creator, then I am truly still arriving, still awakening, still knowing my value and innate goodness. This is the billboard you will see at the entrance to my village nowadays.
It is from this place I offer my heart, I offer my hands to another. This is the woman I wish to see in the world – the woman I am being in the world. I am knowing, once again, that I am part of something larger, that I matter, that my body is a wonderland, and “to be” is to be related to you, because none of this happens alone. And only then, as I am still arriving, still becoming, do I you reach out to let another know that they matter, that they belong. In reaching out without the shame, tempered always by latitude of thought, I make visible what is beautiful, good and true – love. This is the spirituality of rape.