The winner of this year’s Australian Christian book of the year is author Jane Dowling who has written a first-hand account of her own personal experience as an abused child only to be sexually abused again by a priest.
The book ‘Child Arise!’ has been described as a gentle reflection and a handbook for survivors of sexual abuse.
Jane has prayerfully applied God’s Word to the experience of living with the long-term effects of sexual abuse, including abuse by clergy.
Jane has told Vision radio’s 20Twenty program she was quite surprised to emerge the winner from a very illustrious field of nominees.
“It was gift to receive that award for a work that I feel wasn’t so much what I had done but a work that God had done in me.”
Jane said it’s still a sensitive issue to talk openly about.
A healing journey is a long, lifetime journey.
“Sexual abuse has long-term life effects which are physical, emotional, psychological, mental and spiritual. The impacts of sexual abuse are quite profound.”
“It really requires a lot of support and to have professional people around the survivor who can walk with them in a way that empowers them and guides them to be able to deal with the effects and integrate them into the life the survivor is living,” Jane said.
And she’s very much aware she’s still on that healing journey.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m completely healed. Sexual abuse has so many layers and those layers are continually being revealed.”
‘I was sexually abused as a child and later by a member of the clergy’
“For example I was sexually abused as a child by a family relation and then later on by a member of the clergy. I had entered a religious order and within that order I developed an auto-immune illness that arose from the new layers of abuse that I hadn’t faced previously.”
“That whole sense of the illness, of feeling powerless and helpless and not having control effected the trauma of already having been sexually abused as a child. So many new issues arose from that,” Jane revealed and added that it’s a very painful journey.
“I felt God failed to protect me!” But Jane’s faith was always bigger than the trauma she was going through.
Jane recalled how her faith was able to conquer the previous struggles that she had by joining the religious order. She admitted that she did have issues with God.
“I was blaming God for what had happened,” Jane confessed, “I felt God failed to protect me. But there was a very concrete moment within my experience of the sexual abuse.”
“I happened to open the Scriptures and I read a beautiful passage from Isaiah 43 verse 1. ‘Don’t be afraid, I have redeemed you O Jacob. I have called you O Israel. You are mine.’ And those words spoke to me at a time where I felt I was in a very dark tunnel and there was no light at all.”
Jane said she’d hit rock bottom and was quite suicidal. When she read the Scripture she said it was then she felt that God had found her in the tunnel and that the smallest flicker of light came with those words and gave her a source of hope.
“I really experienced that there was someone behind these words. They weren’t just words on paper. There was someone behind these words who loved me and called me. He knew I was afraid and in despair and telling me ‘You are Mine’.”
Jane said she embarked on a deeper journey of knowing God at that desperate point in her life. She said that begins the story of how she entered the religious order.
So far it’s been more than a two decade journey of healing
Jane spoke about the twenty-two years following that first encounter with God saying the Word of God is a foundation to her healing process.
“I belonged to this religious order that involved daily praying with Scripture and evangelisation through spiritual retreats.
“The work that I was doing within my community was praying the Word and allowing the Word to speak into my personal circumstances. Elaborating on that Word every day and writing it out for a talk, and then the huge emphasis of trying to live out that word.”
“So when I spoke that Word at a retreat it was also light hope and faith for others. That’s why the Scriptures are so prevalent in my book,” Jane explained.
“I knew the work didn’t depend on me, the work depended on Jesus and He promised me He was going to carry it out to the very end. And now I can say that God was true to His word.”
The impact of clerical sexual abuse on my relationship with God
Jane Dowling then described in some detail what occurred when she was abused by a priest.
“For me growing up the priest was identified with God, he represented God, so when I called the priest father he represented God the Father. Therefore, the image I had of God the Father was exactly that of the priest who abused me sexually.”
“I thought that if the ‘father’ priest could abuse me then God the Father would abuse me as well. So it had huge implications. I was transferring those same characteristics or feelings to God as I had towards the priest.”
Jane said she had to come to understand what was happening in her relationship with God the Father and that took her a while.
“That meant learning to disassociate the feelings that I had towards my perpetrator from God the Father and to learn to say ‘well I didn’t feel safe with father so-and-so but I can feel safe with God my Father because He’s a loving Father.”
It was Jesus humanity and vulnerability that empowered Jane to overcome the spiritual damage of sexual abuse
Jane said it took years to overcome the spiritual effects of the abuse.
But she said the only way she was able to overcome that was to look at the life of Jesus, in particular His humanity and His vulnerability.
“There’s no experience that Jesus went through that a survivor of sexual abuse also goes through,” Jane declared, adding that Jesus has experienced everything that an abused person also experiences, particularly His passion leading up to His death.
“I felt greatly encouraged by the life of Jesus particularly in passages such as in Gethsemane where Jesus says ‘take this cup of suffering away from Me’. That absolute dread and despair and powerlessness in Jesus in His own suffering. The sorrow that He feels in that moment.”
“All profound experiences that the survivor of abuse experiences, particularly as we go through the process of being re-traumatised. Looking at Jesus and seeing how He was betrayed and the huge hurts that He would have felt.”
‘I asked Jesus why He had to suffer so much. His answer? ‘It was for you, Jane!’
“Being able to identify with that as a survivor of sexual abuse and realising that Jesus when going through this, was still able to relate to God as Father. That’s encouraging, and for me it was a lifeline.”
“It kept me connected to God who is the source of life and hope and encouragement to continue walking the journey.”
Jane revealed that she has asked Jesus why He went through all that suffering, brutality and abuse. Why did He endure such suffering and pain. She said the answer that always comes back to her in prayer was, ‘It was for you, Jane.’
‘In this moment where you’re suffering that you can know that you too can go through this with Me. And that the Father is close to you in this pain and suffering. And We’ll continue to give you strength.’
Jane Dowling said it was these words from the Lord that were so encouraging to her and it was a lifeline.
From darkness to light, from hopelessness to hope
And as for the title of the book, ‘Child Arise’ Jane said it relates to those who have been abused and have reached adulthood and how they again experience their inner child and all the terror that begins to arise in the child.
“The child in us is calling out to the adult to stop because that child is totally broken and despairing. So for me I’ve experienced the resurrection in a very powerful way over the last four years from writing the book up until now.”
“I was very crushed and in a very dark moment of my life when I began writing the book. And through the process of writing, attending the Royal Commission and the prosecution, I can truly say that many things have shifted in me that I can see the experience of the resurrection.”
Jane concluded by saying she’s now in a very different place. A place that’s joyful and a place of light and a place of happiness.
“So it’s a very powerful place for me, of resurrection and being raised to new life and new possibilities.”
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