Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reconnecting to Spirit: Survivor Leads Labyrinth Walk in Portland, Oregon

On Monday, December 6, 2010, Elizabeth Geoke, a survivor of an assault by a priest that foreshortened her career as a nun will do something she might have done if she had remained a nun.  She will lead an Icon Labyrinth Walk to begin the Advent season.  Elizabeth’s journey to this event has not been an easy one.
In 2002, almost 40 years after leaving her religious life, Elizabeth returned to her former Mother House.
Another former nun asked her, Of all the young nuns, I thought you were the most likely to remain a nun.  What happened?”
“Well, that was the year I was stationed away from the Mother House,” Elizabeth replied thinking about the reasons she left her order and the Catholic Church, “And then there was the fact that I was abused by a priest.”
On Christmas Eve that year when she was still a novice nun, not yet professed to her final vows, her confessor told her that he had a right to her body.  She fought him off but became bruised and bloodied in the process.  She pulled herself to play the organ for Christmas Eve Mass, but she could not keep silent, so she told another, younger priest what happened.
He put her under a seal of silence, with threat of excommunication...
Well, do I need to tell you the rest... Everyone who reads Abuse Tracker on a regular basis can fill in the blanks.  When Elizabeth couldn’t remain silent, she was thrown out of the church.  Eventually she married a Quaker man and had three children.
Elizabeth admired her husband’s Quaker faith, but she was never inspired enough by the mostly silent Quaker meetings without any music or readings from the Bible to become a Quaker herself.
Before anyone thinks I am remotely critical of Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends as Quakers are more properly known, let me tell you that my ancestors who came to this country were Quakers.  They believe in the equality of all before the eyes of God that all of us have the light of God in us, male, female, black and white, Christian and non-Christian.  Quakers fought against slavery before most other white Americans were moved to do so.  Quakers were also among the founders of the feminist movement and Quakers had female “ministers” before most other religions did.  Quakers are pacifists and they believe in living simply and they are better than most people of faith in really living their faith.  If you go to a Quaker meeting house, in the parking lot you will see an assortment of broken down cars and bicyles but inside you will meet doctors, university professors, engineers, lawyers, former peace corp volunteers and the like.  They can afford SUVs but they won’t buy them because they don’t believe in valuing material objects.
I love the Religious Society of Friends.  I attended on and off for 8 years, but I was raised by parents who were not religious.  I didn’t find enough support for learning about faith in Quaker meeting.  We had the silent meetings of prayer for an hour, but I didn’t know how to pray.  I learned how to pray in the Catholic Church.  Although, honestly, in other ways, I feel more comfortable with the Quaker lack of authority and hierarchy.  At the risk of being excommunicated myself, I have to confess that I am more of a Quatholic than a Catholic.
So I understand Elizabeth.  For many years, she told people for many years after leaving her religious order, “I don’t do religion.”
But inside of her was an ache of longing for connection that she suppressed until that day in 2002 when someone asked her why she didn’t remain a nun.  LIke so many ex-Catholics, she loves the liturgy, she loves the music and the richness of the Catholic faith.  
Her second, more public confession of having been abused, was not really more supported than her first.  No one in her very Catholic family of birth or her religious order.  Her Quaker husband accepted her and supported her for who she was, but that is what Quakers do.
Coming forward in public as a clergy sex abuse survivor became a spiritual journey for Elizabeth, She had suppressed that part of herself so long she didn’t even know why she had suppressed it.  Coming forward as a survivor of clergy abuse helped her understand that she wanted to reconnect to faith she has so long been disconnected from.  But, due to the lack of support from her Catholic birth family and from her religious order,  Elizabeth was not able to reconnected to the Catholic Church.  However, she found an Episcopal Church, one with a dynamic woman priest, and became involved.  
She said at first that she thought the problem was men, but when the woman priest left, she found that the male Episcopal priest who replaced her was fine, so the problem was not men but Catholic priests.  But eventually she met enough supportive Catholic priests, including the Franciscan priests, Fr. Armando and Fr. Ben, at Ascension where we hold our Compassionate Gatherings, but by then she was already involved at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral here in Portland, Oregon, and decided to stay.
In her journey to reconnect with spirit, Elizabeth took classes and went on retreats, eventually gaining the skills to lead retreats herself.  One of her choice involvements at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is the Labyrinth Guild.  Labyrinths are not mazes.  Mazes have dead ends and often lead the walker very confused.  A Labyrinth leads the walker on a clear path to the center and back again.
Labyrinths are found in many religions and cultures and date back at least to ancient Greece.  They were adopted as a form of walking prayer or meditation in early Christianity.  One of the most famous labyrinths is found on the floor of the Chartes Cathedral in France. 
Labyrinths can be a metaphor for one’s own spiritual journey.  Our paths in life take on twists and turns away from God, but eventual our spiritual path take us to our center to reconnect with God.  The path itself can be a metaphor for how we life our life.  Rarely is one on the path alone.  Do others pass us by or do we rush impatiently past others.  Are we distracted or can maintain our minds in meditation.
Elizabeth will be leading a Labyrinth Walk at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Portland, Oregon, on December 6 from 4:30 PM to 8 :30 PM.  This walk is centered on the season of advent and includes a procession of icons of the Holy Family and of the saints at 4:30 PM.
I am going with my children.  They are beginning to rebel against traditional church services.  My son, who like me, connects to God best while hiking of the side of a mountain, experiences almost as much uplift from walking the labyrinth as he does hiking.
Other survivors of clergy abuse or other forms of abuse who have puzzled how God can allow abuse on the earth, may find Walking the Labyrinth a healing experience, a metaphor for their own journey of life, and a way to reconnect with faith without entering a Catholic Church or even an Episcopal Church because the labyrinth is in a parish building across the courtyard from the Cathedral.  If you find Elizabeth (she is the lovely woman in long grey hair), tell her that you are a survivor of clergy abuse and she will give you extra support.
The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is an especially lovely labyrinth as it is made of inlaid wood.  Soft music will be playing and the room will be lit by candlelight.

Below is an icon arrangement by Elizabeth.  The icons will feature saints and the Holy Family as this one does.

Here are several links to You Tube videos about walking the labyrinth.  Enjoy!

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