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Essay

Unnamed Victims and Prayerful Rage

By October 22, 2015 One Comment
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I don’t remember her name but her silhouette is imprinted on my memory. I met her when I was a teenager. She was a member of the church that my family attended. She had a diminutive build and was prematurely hunched over. I knew instinctively, though I lacked the words to articulate it, that her bent frame reflected another kind of bending, one violently imposed upon her body and mind.

She was the mother of a small boy and the wife of a man who was nearly as small emotionally. He had little respect in the community and, in turn, demanded it from her at every turn. He barked and swaggered. She whimpered and cowered. I wonder what became of their young boy, who today is a man.

This unnamed woman wasn’t the only victim of domestic violence in that congregation. There also was the youth minister who beat his wife and God only knows how many others who smiled in worship and ducked blows at home.

Domestic violence has many faces: physical assault, intimidation, coercion, threats, isolation, emotional power and controlabuse, economic abuse, manipulation of children, and leveraging of male privilege. It is shrouded by minimization (“I didn’t hit her that hard”), denial (“She accidentally fell down the stairs”), and misplaced blame (“She provoked me”). Wielding power and maintaining control of others: this is the intent of each expression of domestic violence. Domestic violence, in whatever form it takes, is a powerful kind of negation that seeks to undo God’s good creation (including victims and perpetrators alike).

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. It has been observed in the United States since 1987. Which means that it could have been celebrated in my home church when I was teenager. It could have been a sermon topic in one of the many congregations I’ve participated in since then. Yet I can’t recall ever hearing a sermon on or participating in a liturgy that takes domestic violence to God in prayer. That’s not to say that churches and leaders whom I’ve known and respected haven’t cared about domestic violence. Some of them have been victims’ advocates—offering resources, recommending safe houses, and providing spiritual care.

But what about the larger public witness of the church in light of the ongoing problem of domestic violence in the United States and abroad? Statistics alone suggest the need for a prophetic voice:

  • 1 in 3 women in the United States have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • 1 in 10 men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Worldwide anywhere from 29-62 percent of women have experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner. (See Pamela Cooper White’s, The Cry of Tamar)

Domestic Violence Awareness Month may be coming to an end, but the abuse endured by so many in our communities isn’t. Participation in God’s ministry of healing, justice, and reconciliation includes ministry to both victims and perpetrators. Too often we forgot that crying out with and on behalf of those whose voices have been muted and bodies have been beat down is an integral part of this ministry. And so I leave us with a portion of a liturgy from Abigail Rian Evans’ Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of Life (a resource that I highly recommend). Hear it in the vein of those imprecatory psalms in which the oppressed rage against violence into the ear of the One who redeems lives from the pit:

The blood that flows cries for revenge

Cursed be the violence of the strong

The child howls in the lonely night

Cursed be the hand that bruised

The woman/man lies sobbing on the floor

Cursed be the hard eyes and the unyielding stone

The body that trust lies in rigid shock

Cursed be the relinquishing of pain

The weak are intimidated and afraid

Cursed be the arrogance and lust for power

The abused shrink away in silent shame

Cursed be the evil power of secrecy

The abusers protest their innocence

Cursed be those who deny their responsibility

The comfortable turn away, refusing to see

Cursed be our collusion and cowardice

Just and holy God, receive our fear and shame, our grief and anger, and channel these strong energies in the service of truth and healing.

One Comment

  • Leanne Van Dyk says:

    I ache for that woman and that child so many years ago. That “imprecatory psalm” speaks their pain. Thank you.

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