Standing strong

child ariseReview by PENNY MULVEY


Jane Dowling is a member of an international Catholic missionary community, serving within the community in prayer and Ministry of the Word. A consecrated member of this community for 23 years, Jane leads spiritual retreats, introducing people to a relationship with God through the Bible.

Jane is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, initially by a relative, and then by a Catholic priest. Like many victims of child sexual abuse, Jane had repressed the memories until, as an adult, she began having nightmares, flashbacks and physical sensations associated with the abuse.

In August, Jane’s book, Child, Arise! The Courage to Stand, was named 2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year.

Jane has given Christians an extraordinary gift. Described as a spiritual handbook for survivors of sexual abuse, Child, Arise! is a daily devotional, written in two parts.

It is a book of hope and light. Jane guides readers using her own personal daily struggles into seeing God in new ways – not as punishing and angry, but as loving and faithful. She reminds the reader that prayer is a dialogue with God: we speak to God, God speaks to us, we speak to God. Her style is invitational, vulnerable and powerful.

The Foreword is written by Fr David Ransome of Sydney College of Divinity. He says this book is challenging the church to consider the next part of the difficult journey of royal commission hearings, remorse, redress and compensation.

“What might happen if we were now truly prepared to ‘sit with’ and listen deeply to the pain of stories and to wonder in the midst of such pain, how such trauma acts as the catalyst for theology, and our self-understanding as church?” Fr David Ransome writes.

“How does people’s pain in this instance shape our sense of God, of Christ, of the church, of redemption?”

The first part of the handbook is titled ‘Listening to our personal story from a loving God’. The daily readings have headings such as ‘God has loved us first’, ‘God doesn’t abandon us’ and ‘Through the gift of Jesus’. In Part II, ‘Working through our issues with a loving God’, Jane uses her struggles and experiences to potentially take the reader into their own story of pain and abuse, and find God in that space.

For example, in ‘Walking through fire’ Jane recounts the day she told her story of abuse to a private hearing with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. She couldn’t get out of bed that morning as the same fear she had experienced all those years ago flooded over her again.

“Even though it was more than 25 years since the abuse had taken place, the fear that this priest instilled in me was overpowering me again,” she writes.

“This is part of the reason why it is so difficult for victims of sexual abuse to tell someone about what has happened to them and to speak out publicly.

“The only way I could get out of bed and start getting ready was by listening to Jesus repeating the words from Scripture again and again, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am with you’ (Matthew 28:20).”

As Jane prepared herself spiritually for the public hearing, she recalled and prayed through a passage in Isaiah 43, in which God promises that no matter what happens, be it floods or fire, God will not abandon his children.

She invites the reader to read the same passage, to substitute their own name into the reading, and to reflect and pray over the words. The questions she poses are relevant to all of us, but particularly poignant for a survivor to ask “What will stop me from getting burned God? How is it possible that I will not be consumed?”

Jane concludes the devotion by taking us back to the outcome of that event, and how the Scripture reading had impacted her ability to manage it.

“There was a brief moment in the session when I thought, ‘I’m not going to make it out of this alive’, and I paused. Right at that time, these words from Scripture came to me, ‘When you walk through fire, you shall not be burnt, the flames shall not consume you, for I am the lord, your God, the Holy One, your Saviour!’ I found the strength to continue telling my story to the end.”

As a church, we are seeking to give children a voice about what it means to be safe. Jane reminds us that for survivors of child abuse, the child is still trapped within the adult body. As we seek to be a child-safe church, we also need to create safety and openness for the adults who are living daily with the long term effects of such abuse. This book is a powerful tool for all of us to walk in each other’s shoes.

David Lovell Publishing 2015 RRP $29.95

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