icon of the Healing of the Woman Bent Double; written by Helen Hodson

Healed by Truth

by Helen Hodson

At birth all men and women receive a human name. But even before that, each one has a divine name, the name by which the Father knows and loves them from eternity and for eternity. (Pope John Paul II, Kiev, Ukraine, 2001)

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“What do you do at Madonna House anyhow?” visitors often ask us. Sometimes Jean Fox, the director general of women [when this was written], answers: “We are healing the wounds of original sin.” She’s in good company. In his book, The Theology of the Body, the pope calls this “the task of every human being.”

If we go back to the beginning, Genesis shows us a time when man and woman were clothed in their true dignity and were in right relationship with their Creator and with one another.

Then came the fall, what we call “original sin.” This resulted, we are told in the encyclical Dominum et Vivificantum, in the falsification of the truth about man and woman and the truth about God. In fact, Satan sowed in man and woman the lie that God was their enemy.

The great wounds of original sin are shame, fear, and loss of dignity. These are overcome, according to the encyclical, by hearing and believing the truth about ourselves and God.

Often we are not conscious of this estrangement from the Father. As a young adult I became aware that, though I had a strong relationship with Jesus and occasionally prayed to the Holy Spirit, I never prayed to the Father. He was, for me, off beyond some distant galaxy somewhere.

This began to change when, as a young staff worker in our MH house in Edmonton, I met a man named Ryan. Ryan, who was charming and well-dressed, often helped out at the house and always joined us for Sunday Mass.

Then, for about a month, he didn’t come, and no one seemed to know where he was.

One night, when I answered a knock at the door, a very dirty and disheveled man was standing there. He was bruised, there was dried blood on his face, and he had obviously been doing some hard drinking. Looking at the floor, he muttered, “Sandwich, please.”

I did a double-take. It was Ryan! I said, “Hello, Ryan,” and he dropped his head even further. I didn’t know what else to do, so I gave him a sandwich and coffee. He walked off and I closed the door.

I don’t think I could ever describe the impact this had on my life. As I thought about the incident afterwards, I realized that, whereas I had always liked Ryan, at that moment at the door, I loved him.

I had not known how to bridge the gap and reach out to him, but at that moment, I would have given anything to be able to do so.

And with that realization came another one. If I loved Ryan in that state, how much more did God the Father love him! And then came the revelation: If God the Father could love Ryan like that, well, maybe he could love me, too, when I was at my worst.

It had cost Ryan an incredible amount to come to Marian Centre that night and be seen in the state he was in. Oh, it was easy to come on a Sunday when he looked good, but like that … But he had come.

But it had been too much of a risk for him to make eye contact. He was carrying so much shame. Maybe I would reject him as he was rejecting himself.

Then I saw that this was the way I operated with the Father. I would sin, and instead of running to him for mercy and forgiveness, I would run away. Eventually I would go to him but so full of shame and self-hatred that I couldn’t look him in the eye.

Seeing this made a profound change in my life.

Adam and Eve did the same thing. After they had eaten the forbidden fruit, they hid themselves. The wound of alienation from the Father entered humankind collectively then, with the sin of our first parents. But each of us believes our own version of the lie and takes our individual stance against life, God, and others accordingly.

I was blessed by growing up in a good family. I had a wonderful father, and so I had a good image of fatherhood. But then my father died when I was sixteen, and my mother went into a severe depression, which resulted in her taking her own life.

Then after her death, I discovered that Mum and Dad were not my birth parents, that they had adopted me when I was four months old!

So I had arrived on earth with a deep wound of abandonment and shattered trust. Certainly Mum and Dad’s love had stopped those wounds from getting any deeper, and certainly it had brought healing, but that little one had still believed some lies.

My birth mother was young and unmarried when she became pregnant with me. Her father and my father, too, greeted the news of her pregnancy with anger. My birth father abandoned her, and her father sent her away.

Imagine the guilt and shame she carried. And somewhere deep inside, the fetus believed she had done something wrong (simply by being) to cause that anger in her father and her mother’s father, and that they had judged, condemned, and abandoned her.

The shame and fear that this brought on was transferred to God the Father. If I got too close to him, if I felt he could really see me, I would experience only anger, judgment, condemnation, and abandonment. So I kept the Father at a safe distance.

I’ll skip ahead to some more recent history. One day, I went to poustinia. I was tired and not on speaking terms with God and not interested in anything he had to say. So I read a novel, The Heart of the Family, by Elizabeth Goudge.

In this book, a little boy is just learning how to run. His father had been working outside the country since before his birth and they had never seen each other:

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“He was running, aware of nothing else except that something he had lost when he came into the world was over there, beckoning, and that if he ran hard enough and fast enough and long enough, he would find it.

“But that he could never do. With the buckling up beneath him of his inadequate legs, there also came the fear. He was going to fall into the black pit, that horrible blackness that was interposed between him and the strong thing to which he was running.

“Yet he could not stop his stumbling run. It was always the same. He came to the brink of the pit and fell into the blackness and the fear.

“But today was different. … As the first onslaught of terror came upon him, he looked up and saw an immense figure striding towards him, a rescuing figure of glorious and victorious power. A man. If only he could get to him. …

“The man was holding out his arms. … He struggled on. … He was there. No, he wasn’t. The worst had happened. … He was falling.

“‘Got you,’ ” said a triumphant voice from the sky, and … he was lifted and locked into complete safety.

“ ‘Daddy,’ ” he said, without knowing in the least what he meant by that word, and with eyes shut he burrowed … into the warm strength that encompassed him. This was the source of his being. This was the thing toward which he ran.” (Elizabeth Goudge, The Heart of the Family, [Lon­don, Hodder & Stoughton, 1953], pp. 53-54. [Reprinted by Servant Publications, 1991])

***

As I read this, I began to cry. And I heard myself say, “That’s how I want to die. I want to run into the arms of my Father. That’s what all my stumbling runs have been about!”

One of my favorite traveling companions, a good friend on my spiritual journey, has been the woman bent double from St. Luke’s Gospel, a woman whom God healed. I like to think of her as bent double from fear and shame and loss of dignity.

He laid his hands on her. And at once she straightened up and she glorified God (Lk 13:12-13). Now she was able to do what she was created to do.

Pope John Paul II calls Jesus “the great promoter of women’s dignity … who in so doing at times caused wonder and surprise even to the point of scandal” (Dignity and Vocation of Women). The pope points out that Christ called this woman “a daughter of Abraham.” In the whole Bible the title “child of Abraham” had only been used of men.

For me, part of the call to stand upright has been to renounce the inner lies I have believed, the inner vows I have made because of them, and the judgments I have made against those who hurt me.

I’d like to finish with the words of an ancient Holy Saturday homily.

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“Christ has gone to free the captives Adam and Eve. He took their hands and said:

“‘Awake, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you life. Out of love for you and for all your descendants, I now command all who are held in bondage to come forth. I did not create you to be held prisoner in hell.

“Rise up, work of my hands. You were created in my image. Rise. Let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you. Together we form one person and we cannot be separated. The enemy led you out of an earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven! The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

From Restoration, January 2002