Back in April 2006, I attended a Rachel's Vineyard weekend in Connecticut. I attended for two reasons: one was to see what went on there, to witness how women who had had abortions were supported and encouraged; the second and main reason was my own desire to make reparation for all the times I had, either by silent acquiescence or active participation, contributed in any way to the taking of an unborn life. Over the course of the retreat I watched as women who had grieved their abortions--sometimes for years--were lovingly and gently helped to forgive themselves and to be assured of the Church's forgiveness and welcome. (If you're a woman or man in need of this forgiveness and counsel go to http://www.rachelsvineyard.org/ for more information.)
One exercise that weekend was to make a list of people in our lives and then write a letter to someone who had hurt us or with whom we had unfinished business. I found that I wasn't angry at anyone, nor did I have unfinished business with anyone--with anyone but myself that is. Recently I found the letter I wrote to myself that weekend. This letter reminds me of how much work I must still do in the world and in myself; I see again how narrow the gate is, the one that we are called to pass through.
A letter to myself:
After studying my list, I find that no one in my life--my mother or father, my ex-husbands, my children, my friends--has truly hurt me. I have only hurt myself, perhaps most by my years of accepting feminism, as all my friends did. Sometimes I feel sorrow, confusion, questioning, or wonder--but any anger has long since gone away. And the only one that I have unfinished business with is myself.
I've thought about and written about the separation from my parents that occurred when I was an infant and toddler and find no blame there. They did what they thought was best for us all at the time. My ex-husbands? Any issues there are blames shared and perhaps mostly mine. The feminist movement? This turns out to be, this weekend, my biggest question, my black hole, the forest I was lost in. How did this movement fool so many who genuinely believed in women's equality, in a woman's right to be heard, to make equal wages, to live without fear of battering or abuse? How did this movement turn into an approval of abortion, approval of a lifestyle not family centered but career centered, a life based not on service to others but on service to self? How did this movement help turn our society's focus from the desire to please God to the desire for human respect and the triumph of human will over God's will?
How my life and my beliefs have changed from that time, but how many errors and wrong turns I have made along the way! Thankfully, I've also learned that life unfolds as God wills--suffering, joy, change, mistakes and struggle--all a part of the journey as we seek and accept our own part in God's plan. My desire this weekend is for forgiveness for all the wrongs that I have done to others, and for the chance to give thanks that wisdom does come, sometimes slowly, but always in God's own time.
If life is like a ribbon unfurling from conception to death, and if along the way there are "knots" in that ribbon--childhood, marriage, births, deaths, errors, joys, fears--how can I more fully accept this ribbon as both a gift and a grave responsibility? As the ribbon slides faster and faster through my hands, how can I celebrate those knots with love, mercy and clarity? I pray that I might accept the past and learn from it, then go on to live with new resolution and always with prayer and penance:
--to continue to strive to know, love and serve God
--to see Christ in others, especially in those who are suffering
--to serve in the ways I am asked to serve, no matter how others serve
--to suffer patiently, even the greatest sufferings
--to forgive seventy times seven
--to have confidence both in God's justice and in His love
--to be fully embodied and yet aware of how frail we humans are, and how vulnerable
--to live with lightness and with joy by being both of this earth and detached from it
--to remember that we must first serve those in our family and our friends
So ends the letter. So continues my arduous journey.