“Most of us need to have the status quo shaken now and then, leaving us off balance and askew, feeling alienated for a while from our usual unquestioned loyalties. In this uncomfortable space, we can finally recognize the much larger kingdom of God….This pattern of temporary falling apart precedes every transition to a new level of faith, hope, and love. If one is not prepared to live in temporary chaos and to hold the necessary anxiety that chaos entails, one never moves into a Bigger World.”—Richard Rohr*
It’s been a hard week. Especially for women. Last Thursday, all cameras were focused on one woman and her story of sexual abuse. Before the day was over, social media outlets and the airwaves overflowed with stories from thousands and thousands of women, telling of their experiences with sexual abuse, some telling their stories for the very first time.
It’s been an anxious week. Especially for men. The status quo has been shaken hard. Fierce push back against the patriarchal system that has always dominated this country and continues to dominate our churches plus fear of the deconstruction of “what has always been” has stirred up anger for many men, shame for others. Male leaders in all circles are feeling off balanced, uncomfortable.
Maybe Richard Rohr has it right. Maybe “falling apart” is necessary for transition to a new way, a better way. But, my friends, the “falling apart” is so very painful. The anxiety I have felt this week has been almost unbearable.
Like many of my sister-ministers, I hold in my heart the stories of dozens and dozens of women who have shared their darkest secrets with me. I’ve heard unimaginable stories from women who have endured sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands, uncles, professors, and coaches. I have heard way too many stories about pastors who have abused women. But this past week I heard new stories, stories that just spilled out. Women couldn’t hold their secrets inside anymore. All week I’ve wondered, “Can I listen to one more story? Is there room for more heartache?”
I have struggled hard with finding ways to hold the darkness of these stories while finding light for myself and offering light to others. And in odd ways, my training and experience as a historian has given me hope. I’ve studied women’s history enough to understand that Rohr is right. In every era of the women’s movement, women responded to injustice and oppression, and their words and actions resulted in the shaking of the status quo, much discomfort, and “falling apart.”
Through times of great anxiety and necessary chaos, women gained the right to vote, used their voice for social change, enrolled in colleges and then seminaries, and broke through glass ceilings across the professions. Looking at our history with a wide lens tells us that the pain of this week can lead is to new levels of faith and hope and love. The “falling apart” can move us into a Bigger World, a world in which women’s voices are heard and believed, where girls are valued and respected, and where women and men work together to end violence and abuse.
For me, remembering that chaos brings change and that discomfort is needed for renewal somehow makes me breathe a little easier. So I’m holding on to Rohr’s words this week, whispering them to myself, clinging to the promise of a much larger kingdom of God.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.
*Richard Rohr, “Necessary Falling Apart,” https://cac.org/necessary-falling-apart-2016-07-08/