Review: “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints”

Dawn Eden and I met unexpectedly. For a free burrito, I had agreed to attend her talk sponsored by a friend’s organization. As someone who works professionally for gay and transgender justice in the Catholic Church, I never expect much from these lectures besides the dinner. Eden’s talk surprised me.

In fact, it surprised me enough that after a conversation with her I ended up reading My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

Eden’s work is authentic and raw, able to provide necessary detail establishing her experiences with childhood abuse while foregoing an unhealthy indulgence into one’s past.This is not a salient tell-all, nor is it strictly an academic work. In weaving her story amid the tapestry of saints and confronting challenging issues, Eden writes a book encompassing more than can be strictly categorized. My Peace I Give You is a spiritual autobiography, a theological text, but primarily it is a narrative of God’s love, applicable for all who read it.

My Peace I Give You emerges from Eden’s own faith perspective, employing traditional devotions and the hierarchy’s documents in framing discussions. Readers with affection for the Sacred Heart of Jesus or saintly relics will likely find added benefits in the work than more progressive Catholics might. The theology is high quality, but stunted for those looking to expand beyond scholastic formulations. That said, there is nothing stale in Eden’s engagement of faith as she portrays devotions in new ways and saints in new lights.

Aside from her own story’s power, Eden masterfully exposes the saints’ lives in her exploration of suffering and abuse, healing and reconciliation. Well-known figures like Ignatius of Loyola and Thomas Aquinas are given fresh perspectives, while lesser-known saints like Karolina Kozka are highlighted. It is evident that Eden has not only researched, but also prayerfully engaged the witness of each person about which she writes.

However, this more traditional approach lends itself to problems for readers like myself. Use of male language for God is a stumbling point, but more problematic is Eden’s use of purity and virginity concepts that I reject outright. Other questions I have about Eden’s presented theodicy or the value of redemptive suffering linger with me. I criticize her use of the term “transvestite” and choice to offer a dangerously anti-gay ministry in the resources section.

Yet, it is evident in the book – and when I heard Eden speak – that she is an uncompromising advocate for women and for victims of sexual violence. These quibbles I have are not fatal flaws for the book, or I would not have been able to write a review. Eden is correct where it most matters – God’s love is at the core of our lives, forgiveness properly understood can liberate us, and a relationship with Christ among the saints is what must sustain us.

I cannot say how others with more knowledge and experience about childhood sexual abuse might respond. I offer my comments as a Catholic invited to read this book who finished impressed with what Eden has produced. I admire how she strove not to answer every question the reader might have or write a perfected treatise. She opened her own brokenness to the reader, and from this wound shared wisdom with doses of devotion and theology intermixed.

Though Eden cites Fr. Daniel Lord of The Queen’s Work fame in the opening, it is another 20th century saint that came to my mind. Henri Nouwen was himself an author who wrote from his own woundedness, and this insight from him seems most apt for Eden today:

“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”

My Peace I Give You is an offering from Dawn Eden of her vulnerable self, that most powerful gift in our modern world, and as such the book contains lessons for every Catholic. Whether they themselves are a victim of childhood abuse, love someone victimized by sexual violence, or simply seek to learn more about these topics which have ravaged the Catholic Church and many in our world this book will offer wisdom for our common journey in Christ.

–Bob

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