Giving up control

Love is giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. The two – love and controlling power over the other person – are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all of the desires within us to manipulate the relationship.

Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality

Not obliged to submit

Some further thoughts from Barbara Glasson’s A Spirituality of Survival: Enabling a Response to Trauma and Abuse:

Relationships should never be traps; they should hold and not bind. […] abuse is about the misuse of power and to ‘sur vivre‘ is to emerge from underneath the story of oppression.

We are most likely to ‘sur vivre‘ if we know that someone is searching for us, that there is a longing for us to re-surface among those who realize we are missing.

Abuse is not just a blip in an otherwise normal life, it is a total disruption of normality. What is perceived to be normal is in fact destructive.

However, the problem is that a woman suffering abuse:

believes that her experience is ‘just how it is’ and so fails to speak out for fear of destruction on the one hand and ridicule on the other.

In many ways a victim of … abuse does not have choices. Abuse happens to them, they are trapped, silenced, damaged … by others who have taken away any sense of their autonomy or self-worth, they are made into objects.

Those … whose lives have been violated, subsumed and stolen … are called to find freedom, safe enough space in which to claim life and flourish. They are not obliged to submit to repressive, self-denying demands but to find strength and authenticity through the bringing to light of the truth.

A double bind

Following up a friend’s recommendation, I am currently reading Barbara Glasson’s A Spirituality of Survival: Enabling a Response to Trauma and Abuse, a book that I am finding increasingly insightful, the more I am getting into it. Taking Miroslav Volf’s definition of exclusion from Exclusion and Embrace as her point of departure, Glasson rephrases this from the perspective of the victim, suggesting that:

… exclusion is being made invisible by someone who assumes superior power over us. We are rendered irrelevant and of no consequence. We are therefore pushed to the edges of … relationship to a place of silence, worthlessness and loneliness. … it can mean being owned or manipulated by someone who assumes power over us to such an extent that we lose any sense of autonomy.

Glasson describes this as ‘a double bind of silencing and isolation’, noting that victims are ‘simultaneously completely related to “the other” but also rendered totally irrelevant by “the other”.

Regardless of the motives of the abuser, a victim experiences this double bind of exclusion; this is why it renders them feeling unable to make easy changes. Whatever choice they make, they will be compounded in one cycle or another, of isolation or of ridicule, rendering them simultaneously more dependent and more isolated.

She adds:

In order to not be a victim of either oppression or invisibility … the structures of power [need to be reversed] in such a way that boundaries become liberating rather than controlling.

And she suggests:

The abused person is unable to unbind herself from the knot of victimization without the solidarity of others. These “others in solidarity” need to be prepared to enter into the bind and release it on behalf of the victim. Victims rarely move out of the cycles of abuse on their own but rather need the support, insight and understanding of those who “stand in solidarity”.

We liberate a man

I have found Walter Wink’s brief little book on non-violence a thought-provoking read. He makes it quite clear that non-violence does not imply passive acceptance of an inhumane situation. Here’s an example of what non-violence does not mean:

How many a battered wife has been counseled, on the strength of a legalistic reading of [Matthew 5:38-41], to ‘turn the other cheek,’ when what she needs, according to the spirit of Jesus’ words, is to find a way to restore her own dignity and end the vicious circle of humiliation, guilt, and bruising. She needs to assert some sort of control in the situation and force her husband to regard her as an equal, or get out of the relationship altogether. The victim needs to recover her self-worth and seize the initiative from her oppressor. And he needs to be helped to overcome his violence.

(From Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way)

The last point ties in with Margaret Mead’s comment that ‘every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man’ (quoted in Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach [eds], Fifty Shades of Feminism). How true!

Aftershocks can go on for years

The inevitable happens …. Geryon meets Herakles again, with predictable consequences:

The effort it took to pull himself
away from Herakles’ eyes
could have been measured on the scale devised by Richter.

But things are not the same, for Herakles is with another man.

Volcanoes and earthquakes make repeated appearances in Carson’s work. They also feature in Autobiography of Red, where they symbolise some of the effects of a (troubled) love relationship. So when Ancash, Herakles’ new friend, notes that ‘aftershocks can go on for years’, Geryon laconically replies, ‘I know’, thinking not of tectonic movements but of the aftershocks of his relationship with Herakles, which are still troubling him many years on.

It is all too much for him. After a while, Geryon can’t cope with the company of the two friends any more. He ‘threw himself out the door’, we are told in typical ‘Carsonesque’ fashion, only to end up ‘in his hotel room on the end of the bed staring at the blank TV screen’.

It was seven a.m. Total agitation possessed him. He had held off phoning Herakles
for two days. Even now he was not
looking at the telephone (which he had placed in the bottom of his sock drawer).

when from deep in its cave of socks the telephone
rang. Geryon dove for it.

Some time later, Herakles, Geryon and Ancash visit a Peruvian volcano, which, in ancient times, used to be worshipped as a deity. People were thrown into it, Ancash explains, not for sacrifice but as a testing procedure:

They were looking for people
from the inside. Wise ones.

‘People from the inside’ – like Geryon, in other words, who not only is an inside person, an introvert, but has shown himself to be of considerable intellectual and emotional depth.

Then, in one of the book’s most poignant moments, Ancash explains to Geryon that some of those who had been thrown into the volcano return. They manage this due to their wings:

Wings? Yes that’s what they say the Yazcamac return as red people with wings,
all their weaknesses burned away –
and their mortality.

Like Geryon again, who is red and has wings, two features that have been troubling him all his life but are here shown to be something rather special. In a book that has layers upon layers, Carson plays with the ancient story upon which it is based and which features a red monster. But who is the monster in this story, deep, thoughtful Geryon, the wise inside person, or Herakles, who comes across as shallow and selfish, oblivious to the feelings of his two friends?

Geryon, we read, ‘thought about thoughts’.

Even when they were lovers
he had never known what Herakles was thinking.

What Geryon was thinking Herakles never asked. In the space between them
developed a dangerous cloud.

Or consider the following conversation, which illustrates so well how people can be together and yet not be together at all:

Geryon what’s wrong? Jesus I hate it when you cry. What is it?
Geryon thinks hard.
I once loved you, now I don’t know you at all. He does not say this.
I was thinking about time – he gropes –
you know how apart people are in time together and apart at the same time – stops.

All the while, Geryon keeps on struggling, as my last two examples, both couched in language that only Carson could manage, illustrate:

It is all wrong.
Wrongness came like a lone finger
chopping through the room and he ducked.

He slid off the bed quickly. Thorns all around him black and glistening
but he passed through unhurt …

.

About a changing universe, real relationships and avoiding the will to power

Looking for something else, I stumbled across some quotes I copied from Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack some time ago. This book had a profound impact upon me at a time of the most intense inner turmoil. Rereading the extracts many months later, I was once again touched by the deep wisdom found in these lines.

On forgiveness and kindness:

Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, [God’s] purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.

And again on forgiveness, but also on relationships and how forgiveness, while important, is not the whole story:

Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.

The next thought follows on from the previous reference to change:

Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.

Some further reflections on relationships – and the problem of power:

Each relationship between two persons is absolutely unique. That is why you cannot love two people the same. It simply is not possible. You love each person differently because of who they are and the uniqueness that they draw out of you. And the more you know another, the richer the colors of that relationship.

Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself – to serve.

And, moving on to different issues, some interesting observations on law, control, superiority and certainty:

Trying to keep the law is actually a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control. … [The law] grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them. You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge. Enforcing rules, especially in its more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, [God has] a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse.

I miss God

I miss God. I miss the company of someone utterly loyal. … I miss God who was my friend. I don’t even know if God exists, but I do know that if God is your emotional role model, very few human relationships will match up to it. I have an idea that one day it might be possible, I thought once it had become possible, and that glimpse has set me wandering, trying to find the balance between earth and sky.

Thus Jeanette Winterson in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, an autobiographical novel that tells the story of Winterson’s painful break with her fundamentalist, pentecostal upbringing.