I will preface this disjointed post by saying that I don’t expect everyone to follow my train of thought here. It IS rather disjointed, but it flowed in my stream of consciousness this way as I talked with two friends: one in the afternoon with tea around my fire. The other way late into the night with vodka on the Feast of the Annunciation. Which, come to think of it, is a perfect feast for pondering this idea of voice–whose voice, how it is heard, and what it all means.
So, let me begin with Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. A week or so I was reading along being all open-minded, but on the struggle bus. It’s not a difficult book to read in the sense that the ideas are not difficult–even if I disagree with some of them, I do understand them. It’s not a particularly long book either. But I was just so unnecessarily annoyed with it. For such a popular book I found myself ready to chuck it across the room in exasperation with how poorly it is written. I had a little check-in with myself, asking myself why I was so irritated with it. And it came to me that it is the voice. What voice is this? This was not written nor translated by someone who has English as their primary language. I realized that unaware I was reading it in my head with a Russian or Eastern-European accent. It was not the ideas that annoyed me so much as the clumsy way they were being communicated–which pointed to it much more being a me-problem. Mea Culpa. (I then googled it and confirmed my suspicions.)
This episode of me trying to sort out whose voice something was written reminded me of early in my conversion to Catholicism. I got a Catholic Bible from my BFF. I took up the Deuterocanonical books with enthusiasm. Then I struggled to get through them because I didn’t know the voice. You see, I had read the 66 books of the Protestant canon so many times. Those books felt familiar and comforting, like walking into your grandmother’s house and knowing where she keeps the treats, where the best books are on the shelves, and to immediately get dibs on the coziest chair.
These new books felt awkward to me, not because of the truths they contained, but because I simply didn’t know their voice. I had to sit with them awhile and learn their rhythm. It was like I had to tuck myself next to the Holy Ghost and ask to see things through new eyes. What are you looking at? May my eyes rest there. Now they feel so much more alive and active and beautiful and tender then when I first started reading them. I can find my place amongst their images and listen to God point out the intricacies.
Do you know the story of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8? This story is so shocking because they actually trap this woman. They literally find her in the very act. Can you imagine the scheming and level of evil that these men engage in? This is dark. So dark it hurts my heart in all the tender places that are healing from trauma. They drag her out into the street straight from the act. They do nothing to be discreet in the slightest. That was not the intent anyway. She was simply a pawn to be used in their plans to expose Jesus as a fraud or hypocrite or hater of the law. She was an object to be used. She was completely disposable.
What Jesus does is also shocking, but in a way that displays so much masculine gentleness it makes me weep. He bends down and starts writing in the dirt. I have heard all the theories of what he was writing. But I don’t think any of those things are the point of the story at all. The point is that he draws all the attention away from this woman’s vulnerability. Respecting her innate dignity, he is willing to make himself the fool and have all eyes on him and away from her shame. He does not magnify or emphasize her shame in any way. In a sense he covers it. He says in essence, “Don’t look at the sin, look at me. Where my eyes go, look there. What I do, take notice.”
“Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.”I Peter 4:8
Pondering this I thought about our preoccupation with the misdeeds of others, with disasters on the other side of the world, with world leaders who can’t behave, with evil lurking in the hearts of our fellow pilgrims. In no time in history would we know so much about what is happening on the other side of the world and at the same time in people’s private lives. Why should I know where and how Prince Harry got frostbite? Why should I even have any information about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s divorce? Why should I know what any given politician’s choice of ice cream is or what laws are being debated in Pakistan or what ridiculous reforms are being instituted in a Christian denomination I am not even a part of? None of this is any of my business.
If I were a Catholic peasant in 16th century France I wouldn’t know a play-by-play of what was being debated in the Council of Trent. And really, why should I? I would stop in my field at noon and say the Angelus. I would fast on fasting days and feast on feasting days. I would have my babies baptized and invite the parish priest to share in my peasant dinner. I would venerate traveling relics and have my fields blessed on rogation days. I would be more worried about the neighbor woman who was about to give birth to her 12th child than I would be about Catherine de’ Medici giving the French people Italian kings. (I would take her a casserole for sure. I mean, if they had casseroles back then.) My salvation would be worked out with my own fear and trembling and not with a morbid curiosity bordering on obsession with the sins of others. Naturally my eyes could follow where Jesus was writing, my very life being more connected to the dirt on which is etched the truth. These days it takes more discipline to remove my eyes from where the world points and says “Look! Look!” It takes a concerted effort to turn off the voice of the masses who accuse others of the sins they themselves participate in and to listen to the voice of the Lord who says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Recently I was going through a little valley. It was just a combination of factors really: a long winter of grey and not enough sun, working my ass off, single parenting, loneliness, Lent. I was just feeling very isolated–which is a thing even when surrounded by lovely people! Loneliness is part of the human condition. There is no cure.
I emailed my friend Masha (yisforhome) and unburdened my heart. She sent me a reply that said in part that my life was deeply connected and I had to take notice of it. Right now I was tired but also, “there’s snuggly hugs with tiny arms, barking dogs, bickering kids…all the voices that’ll sink into the wood of your home and make it echo all through your life. When you’re 60 and they’re all off around the world (or the block, whatever) they will be memories seeped into every corner of the house.”
She gently reminded me to tell a good story to myself, for the stories we tell ourselves–whether they come to us in our own voice, the voice of the Lord, or the voice of a Slavic goddess of a friend–are the stories that will keep us company as we negotiate the many details of our lives and will narrate our dreams. She told me to not forget to tell myself a bedtime story, “Once upon a time…like so many heroines, she whispered her dreams to the darkness, and the night took each one, wrapped it in hyssop and brought it to the Child Christ, who smiled on them–until one by one they came back to her fulfilled. The first to return was…”
It’s an interesting exercise this last stretch of Lent to consider whose voice I am listening to. What is the voice communicating? Where is it drawing my attention? If it is making me mad, is that the fault of the speaker or the way I am interacting with it? Is the voice leading me to hope? The hope that does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in my heart. Am I willing to sit with voices that are uncomfortable or lonely or longing? Am telling myself a good story, one oriented to truth, goodness, and beauty?
In times of difficulty in sorting out voices, it is beautiful to have friends who tell you good stories–who can read between the lines of your life and see the narrative of God’s mercy and tenderness.
2 thoughts on “Whose Voice?”
Daja, first of all, I have to challenge your statement that “The Drama of the Gifted Child” is a popular book. It was originally published in German in 1979. According to Amazon, the most recent English version is #4,478 in the Books category. In contrast, Gabor Maté’s “The Myth of Normal,” which I bought and returned after reading three or four chapters, was published in September of last year and ranks #571 in Books, while “The Body Keeps Score” by Bessel van der Kolk, published in 2015, ranks #13.
Neither Miller’s books nor her theories are popular because of cognitive dissonance. You are absolutely not the only person who has a hard time understanding her. She is telling people (mental health professionals included) that their parents did not love them, and the fear of losing the love of our parents controls 99.9 percent of us, because as children, if our parents didn’t love us, it might very well mean death. As adults, the consequences go away, but the fear doesn’t, because our bodies have never been allowed to express the emotions that our parents’ behavior/words/unspoken messages created in us as children. Back then, we couldn’t do it because it was too risky: it might cause our parents to stop loving us. Now, as adults, we can’t do it because we are bombarded with messages that “assure us” that our parents did the best they could and that they certainly loved us, no matter what.
These messages come from who? People with the same repressed fears. In our first years of life, every single one of us learned what love is through the way it was modeled by our parents (caregivers). Some of us had authoritarian parents, some of us had neglectful parents, some of had abusive parents, and a very slim minority of us had parents who did it right. In my own childhood, I was shown love (affection, tenderness) when I proved myself worthy of it by behaving in the ways my parents wanted me to, so I internalized the notion that love needs to be earned. This affected everything in my life until about a year ago, when I began the healing process with Alice Miller’s “The Body Never Lies.” Until then, everything I did—worshiping/loving God (although for me, it was really worshiping/loving the Catholic Church); reading books and sharing my knowledge with others; taking pictures and showing them off on social media; being perceived as a great parent, a responsible and faithful Catholic, and the wife of a wonderful man—was done in order to get the Gold Star/the A+/the admiring comments, which showed that I was worthy of love (in my mind, though, I referred to it as “respect”).
In a slightly different vein, I’d like to share my answer to this question of yours (am I doing it to earn your love or respect? No, because I now understand that I don’t need to): “If I were a Catholic peasant in 16th century France I wouldn’t know a play-by-play of what was being debated in the Council of Trent. And really, why should I?”
Whether or not that 16th-century French peasant knew anything about the Council of Trent, it affected her life, and the official teachings (doctrine, dogma) of the Roman Catholic Church still affects the lives of those who are members, whether or not they consciously accept or reject them. We all walk a fine line between being aware of too much and too little, but what you don’t know may very well hurt you. For instance, my family and I very deliberately rejected the Covid narrative, but that does not mean that it has not negatively affected our lives. It impacts everything in the world we live in and will continue to do so until we die. There is simply no pretending that it doesn’t.
This comment went to spam for some reason. Was not ignoring it! Just reading it now.
Oh, I don’t think Alice Miller is difficult to understand at all. It’s not cognitive dissonance to disagree with someone’s conclusions.
And my point of the peasant not knowing a play by play of the world is not say that what is happening on the other side of the world can’t hurt you, but simply saying that the best thing we can do is focus on those nearest to us, love them well, to live in faithfulness and charity. Because in the end I am responsible for what I can control and wasting my rage on what I cannot control ends us being harmful sometimes. Listening to all the voices in the world is often too big a burden to bear.