Thursday, October 1, 2009

Arriving at Holy Cross with the Kids

The last few days have been nuts. All day Tuesday at a workshop on Missional Church stuff (mostly looking with a group at Roxburgh's The Missional Leader). It was a good group and we had some interesting discussion. It seems clear that things are shifting in the Diocese of Toronto, and soon every parish will be expected to be "missional" in whatever sense works for them. So it's neat to see how that movement is taking place--pockets of conversation here and there that are become louder and more organized.

All day Wednesday I was at St. George's, Pickering, for a workshop on the spiritual consequences of the sexual abuse of children. This is a mandated workshop for clergy held every few years. I found the last such workshop in 2007 to be extremely powerful event that changed some aspects of my ministry. Then we spent the whole day listening to a Roman Catholic Priest, Father Ray Chase, discuss one particular family that was destroyed by sexual abuse. We spent the entire day exploring just one case.

This year they brought Father Ray back, and this time he discussed the spiritual consequences of sexual abuse on children more generally. For instance, sexual drama potentially distorts a children's formation of their notion of who God is and what God is like. Father Ray showed a bunch of case examples where kids have ended up with deformed and maladaptive images of God as a result of their traumatic experiences. The goal of this kind of workshop is not to make us into therapists, but rather to equip us for the pastoral work of repairing the spiritual lives of people affected in this way.

When you consider that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18, the importance of this training becomes obvious. Still, going into the head of an abused child is not exactly a fun and refreshing way to spend the day!

Then this morning (Thursday) I met up with Kerrie and the confirmation kids to drive down to Holy Cross. The eight hour trip was mostly uneventful, although crossing the border into the States was more complicated than you might suspect. Two our kids had to get special visas ahead of time, but even then they still had to get another document issued at the border to allow them to travel into the U.S. This particular document will need to be surrendered when they leave again!

Back on the road.... The kids were pretty quiet most of the way. We had snacks and naps and some talk. We arrived just before supper.

The monks are glad to see me. Hugs. Me feeling the feelings that come with being here. Rleaxed. Opened. Joy. Ease-of-breath.

I'm writing this in the Pilgrim Hall while three of my kids are starting a puzzle. The Compline bell will be ringing in about 45 minutes.

Life is grand!



John said...

As a therapist, I cannot agree more that sexual abuse of children by those who embody God's Authority to the child, profoundly affects their "god-representations" - not to mention their capacity for faith in themselves and in others. They are left with great fear of letting ANYONE in to those womb-like places inside themselves that they have learned to abhor, and sometimes protect with a vengeance- body, mind and soul.

Tay Moss said...

John, thanks for your comment.

While I'm sure that the sexual abuse of children by those with spiritual authority is awful in particular ways, Father Ray's work is with kids in residential treatment who have been abused by adults and peers in all kinds of different relationship configurations. Part of his point is that it isn't just abuse by clergy that damages a child's spiritual self, but abuse by any figured in perceived power.

For a child, authority figures become somewhat conflated. Given the prevalence of sexual abuse of children in our society, it is extremely likely that that we are already caring for a large number of people in our congregations that have suffered this kind of abuse, whether they have disclosed it or not. His hope was to equip us to deal with the spiritual issues we are likely to encounter in our congregational contexts.

Interestingly, in one of the cases we discussed a young boy who was both a victim and a perpetrator attempted to become a chapel leader at the residential centre because he wanted to the access this would give him to potential victims. Needless to say, the staff did not allow this strategy to succeed.

In another case that Father Ray speaks and writes about often, two boys in the same family were abused by a man that took a position as a teacher in order to gain access. Next, this abuser targeted a specific family that he knew was more vulnerable than others and worked his way into the parents' trust. This wasn't just someone who slipped across a boundary in a spontaneous moment, but spent years of disciplined effort to satisfy his immoral desire. To this day he doesn't believe what he did was wrong.