Rev. Hilda R. Davis PhD
But when he noticed the strong wind,[e] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matthew 14:30
I worked a year in Philadelphia as a therapist with women and men living with multiple diagnoses yet who were remarkable in their resilience and courage. Though they were inspirational, I did not have a community and little emotional reserve to keep myself well. The good news was I did have a therapist who offered support to me so I might give my clients the support and safe space they needed to heal.
Another way I managed to be present with my clients and keep my own sanity was to
watch videos—this was before Netflix! The series that was one of my favorites was Smallville, named after the town where Clark Kent/Superman grew from child to adult. The theme song by Remy Zero, Save Me, caught my attention because that was how I felt trying to serve my clients and stay sane myself. Because I had no friends and no faith community I felt like I needed somebody to save me from loneliness, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed. The church where I tried to become active was not welcoming and I did not have the energy to explore churches around the city. So, I spent many evenings and weekends sitting on my couch, eating, and watching the entire seven seasons of Smallville; along with other videos I checked out from the library. I connected with the words to the theme song because I felt if someone would save me—would connect with me, I could make the situation work.
This memory of feeling alone and needing to be saved came back to me recently when I was co-facilitator at a workshop called Tamar’s Tears. It was a workshop that discussed sexual violence. In the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-14) Amnon, her half-brother and son of King David, rapes her when she refused to allow him to have sex with her. The workshop had a brief re-enactment of the Biblical passage, a panel discussion, and an opportunity for the participants to ask questions. I assisted with the summary by providing tools for healing. After listening to the survivors of rape, incest, and of parents whose children were sexually molested, I could not get the words from that song out of my head, “Somebody save me”. These courageous panelists, both male and female, all talked about the isolation they felt. They described feelings of not being able to talk to anyone for the fear of being blamed for what was done to them and the shame from living with their secret.
However, the process of healing began when they realized they could be saved from shame and guilt; not by someone coming in, rescuing them, and beating up their attacker. But, they were saved when they were able to call to Jesus for His saving power, to reach out to a safe community, and to tell somebody. Those steps allowed the healing to begin. Just as Peter called out to Jesus when he was sinking, “Lord, save me” the survivors were drawn out of the water of depression, isolation, despair (having thoughts of suicide) by telling someone they could trust and by getting help.
I was not sexually assaulted, but I am a survivor of domestic violence. I know what it means to feel shame and to have secrets that hold back my healing. I understand wanting to isolate, if not physically, but emotionally. I have lived with the anger of feeling powerless in similar ways described by the survivors of sexual violence.
And, I also know the power that comes from calling on Jesus for the faith that I will heal and the courage to keep going until I do.
Sexual and domestic violence is being talked about now more than ever. My attacks were over thirty years ago. If you have ever thought, “Why are these women just now talking about what happened years ago?”, I can tell you that as hard as it is to talk about the shameful secret of abuse today, thirty or twenty or five years ago it was much harder. I thank God for the awareness the #MeToo Movement has brought to the sin of sexual violence. I am grateful women are no longer silent because as Audre Lorde, a Black female poet, cultural critic, and essayist (who is one of my favorite writers) wrote, “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrifieda because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't.”.
I pray the church is not silent and will offer survivors a safe space to talk about how they were “saved”. The church I left behind when I moved from Philadelphia did not offer hospitality when, during the time of congregational sharing, I mentioned my mother had just died. I don’t imagine they could offer comfort to a survivor of abuse. Survivors of sexual (and domestic) violence need to know the church will not try to silence us or ignore us or shame us, but will offer hospitality and hope as we heal. I pray the church will support us and provide a safe space for us as we release the shame and guilt associated with the crime that was not our fault.
I extend an invitation to SACRED Sisters to tell your stories or share how your congregation responds to survivors of sexual and domestic violence. How can we be more responsive and not be silent when a Sister shares her story? If you are a survivor who has been silent, what do you need to heal? How can we offer support? When we cry out “Lord, save me” God will always extend a hand for help. There is no Superman, just a Super God!
Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (RAINN) --- 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
*I’m Not a Sexual Assault Survivor; I’m a Victim Danielle Campoamor
DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) ---- Hotline: 202-333-RAPE (helpful information not limited to DC area)
The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Sexual Violence
Marie Fortune—*FaithTrust Institute: Working together to end domestic & sexual violence