Before you continue, read this part first.
Standing in a simple whitewashed chapel, I have the body of a teenage girl. Fourteen, perhaps fifteen. I feel (or she feels) cornered, contained, humiliated. Tears are streaming down our face as we clench in mad rage. It’s not fair! The scream echoes in our head as the ugly face of a bald priest stares down at us with eyes full of hard ice. We had once again offended his holy office or mandate or whatever. This toad has has it out for the girl, since he arrived in the castle. He claims he wants to save her, but she does not need saving. He just wants to feel important, to put her in her place.
Her garment is made of rough cloth with fine stitches. It’s dirty at the hem, but reasonably clean. She’s important somehow, a daughter of a lord. The priest has to deal with her. He hates that he has to. That priest does not like our mother and he does not like us. My anger builds and I lose my sense of separation from that girl. I scream in my head. I don’t care what he likes! My fists clench tighter as my arms come up. I’m ready to punch his face in. I pull my elbow back to gain some momentum and ––
‘Ohwowno wait! We’re not here for that!’ The therapist stops me from violence. ’Can you bring both the girl and the priest to the campfire? It’s burning, warm and cozy, full of unconditional, loving presence. Let them both come and rest with it.’
Right… I relax my arms to my sides. I had nearly forgotten that none of this was real.
As I step out of the girls body, I find myself next to the campfire with my mentors close by. The girl walks up to the campfire and warms herself with all the poise of a teenager, believing that she truly owns the world. Silently, she’s grateful for the change of scenery and the safety it provides.
The priest treads carefully, as if walking on a thin ice. He nears the fire, but stays away from its warmth, turning his body away as the corners of his eyes flash towards the girl in contempt. He looks ready to bounce at a moment’s notice.
The therapist allows me to describe the setting, then guides us forward. ‘What does the girl truly wish to express to the priest?’ she asks, then assumes the tone of a scolding mother. ‘In words, please.’
The girl walks up to the priest. She takes his full measure, then speaks with confident defiance. ‘You are a toad. A stupid ugly son of a toad. You are a small man and you want your world to be as small as you are. Anything bigger than your small god and you must strike her, humiliate her. A toad of a man.’ I can feel her desire to spit her contempt at him, but she holds that part back. The assignment said ‘words’. Finished, she stands silent, defiant, waiting for his response.
My therapist is a saint for not laughing. ‘Very well,’ she says. ‘Now, please allow the priest to respond. What would he like to say to her?’
I place my attention on the priest, feeling into his cautiousness. He’s thinking, seeking for the deeper truth he wants to convey, God’s truth. He is not a man to speak rashly. Then, he finally takes a breath and says, ’I am afraid of you, girl. I am afraid of you and the line of witches you come from.’ This truth hangs between them for a moment. Then, encouraged, he continues. ‘You are too vast, too uncontrollable, too wild, girl. Your mother… God does not favour man who can not tame their women. I am afraid that you can not be tamed. In the name of God, I must try.’
The priest is not happy with this god-given task. Still, he is a man doing his duty and does not need to like it. My own mind reels from the implications of his truth. A small God indeed. As I contemplate his words, silence stretches around the campfire. The therapist breaks it. ‘What would you like to do now?’
I know what I need to do. I step up to the priest, who shrinks a little in my presence, shying away like a frightened animal. I touch him lightly, saying, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ I take a breath and repeat with added confidence. ‘Don’t be afraid.’
It feels as if a boundary dissolves around him. The priest turns and looks at me with an open face, full of surprise. I understand his earlier positioning now. He had been so cut away from love that he couldn’t stand the nearness of it. Without this layer of fear, he can finally feel the warmth of our campfire. He steps closer to the fire, allowing its warm love to sink in.
Therapist seems pleased with the progress, but we’re not done yet. One last step. ’Do you think the girl, now that she knows the truth, can reach to the bottom of her heart, and forgive the priest?’
Upon those words, the girl squirms, her eyes filling with incredulity. Forgiveness is a tall order. ‘She can do it,’ I assure the therapist, then correct myself. ‘We can try.’
To assist with the process, I embody the girl. Together we start seeking for forgiveness for the priest. It takes a long time. The possibility is there, but the actual place of real forgiveness is slippery and hard to catch. Together, we seek that place at the bottom of her heart, but all the insults she had suffered keep swimming to the fore, blocking our way.
After long moments of dodging the current of insults, we find it – the place where we can forgive in truth. I hold my attention there as the girl speaks. ‘You are a toad. A stupid, scared toad. But I see you and I forgive you… Even if you are a toad.’ The girl looks around as if making sure we all understood her.
The therapist has smile in her voice as she accepts her. She directs me to ask the priest to seek for forgiveness in his own heart.
The priest is a grown man and knows a thing or two about forgiving. At least in the name of God. But from himself? He feels stronger from the fire and is ready to see this through. Try it. I encourage him. Straightening his posture, the priest plunges himself deep into his heart to speak its words.
‘You are a woman and I am afraid of you. I am afraid of your mind, your logic. I am afraid of your knowledge and your power. I am afraid of your weakness and your ability to persevere regardless. I am afraid of your strengths and your mysteries. Woman, I do not understand you. What I do not understand, I must control.’
He pauses, remembering that the goal of this is to forgive. We see scattered images of his mother. A woman, controlling his upbringing. A woman he was utterly dependent on. A woman who failed in loving him the way he needed to be loved. A woman who did not know him, who could not save him. A dangerous woman, a fragile woman. All women were like her. Too strong, too weak.
Another pause. Forgiveness, right?
The priest takes a long breath, surrendering to the task and we can feel his heart as he speaks. ‘Woman, I forgive you for being weak. I forgive you for being strong. I forgive you for being mysterious. Woman, I forgive you for acting silly and incomprehensible. I forgive your power and your wisdom. Woman, I forgive you for not knowing what I need.’
Upon finishing these words, the priest slumps. His legs buckle as if there is nothing holding him up anymore.
His fear of women must have been a big part of his identity, I realise, surprised again by the implications of this. His fear and contempt for women was who he was. Now, as his heart has forgiven all women, he does not know who he is.
I explain it to the therapist, who offers a solution. ‘Can you and the girl help him stand up?’
Yes we can. As we touch the man and help him stand, the once priest places his arms around us, fearless. His identity is different now, his eyes shine with love and confidence.
He is no longer a priest. He is a man.
The rest of this crazy-insightful healing session was a little less mystical than these two excerpts.
At the end, I had a chance to talk to my brother, expressing my own fears to him, ones related to this lifetime. Using the words I had given to the priest, he asked me not to be afraid anymore.
I let the power of forgiveness wash over all the lifetimes I had touched on my journey.
And I gave a massive hug to the Therapist, of course. She’s the real unsung hero of this story.