The Savanna of My Soul
Becky Ward ~ November 24, 2012

I live near the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Northwest Oregon.  As my conversion began several years ago, and I began to put serious effort in my spiritual life, the Abbey has been my refuge.  I volunteer at the guesthouse a couple times a month and I am able to attend daily Mass in their church.  I often find myself coming back for Compline (night prayer), drawn like a moth to a flame….but this flame is the Holy Spirit.
I am stunned and speechless to think about how much spiritual ‘work’ has been accomplished, how much sorrow, frustration, and anger have been expressed (safely drowned out by the running motor of my vehicle), and how many, many, graces and blessings have been received, over the five-mile stretch of road between my home and the Abbey.
My spiritual director is a priest/monk here, and while I have spoken only a few words with most of the other monks, we are family.  So I am not surprised to find myself here for a day of solitude in the midst of the current ‘storms’ in my life.
My husband was recently fired from his job of 34 years. Because he was fired there has been lots of paperwork and red-tape to apply for unemployment and other benefits, and the prospect of finding a similar job at his age is not good.  Over the last several months I have learned that I unknowingly aborted a baby while using an IUD about thirty years ago, and also that a memory of being sexually abused, which I initially thought was harmless, had actually ravaged my life for forty-five years or more…..and I wasn’t aware of it.
I believe that part of me is in shock from learning of the many ways abuse has devastated my life.  My dad was an alcoholic; very strict, old-fashioned, and abusive when he drank.  I married a man with a similar background not knowing how damaged either of us were.  My heart breaks when I realize that we were also sometimes abusive to our own children.  There was abuse in my marriage, I was abusive to myself, and I have been mentally/emotionally/spiritually abused by family members…..and even some clergy.
I have stumbled through life feeling completely defective, dirty and unlovable.  In hindsight I honestly don’t know how or why I have survived this long.  I have spent vast amounts of time and energy dealing with fear and other things that I carry because of the abuse.  I’m exhausted!
 I have been grieving the loss of my aborted daughter, Ariel, and also the loss of my ‘self’, the wounded inner child who died that day so long ago.  How can I not have known?  But I didn’t; God hid it from me, and discovering the truth, and learning of all the ways I have been harmed by the abuse leaves me reeling.
My life is shattered……..and I don’t know where to begin putting it back together.
I am reading several books that deal with abuse and how we can bond with people who have betrayed us, and also about deliverance from evil spirits.  It really IS work to continue facing dark, ugly memories, and dealing with triggers and flashbacks in an effort to break the hold that something done long ago still has on me.  A common metaphor for the healing process is ‘remodeling a house’.  UGH!!  I understand what they mean but this doesn’t speak to me very much…..there is too much work needed on my part to help tear down and remodel a house.  I don’t have the discipline for that, and God doesn’t work with me that way.  I simply follow the inspirations and prompting of the Holy Spirit as He leads me moment by moment…..that’s how I got where I am today, by following one inspiration after another.
I believe that I am through the worst part of learning what the abuse and unresolved grief has done to me, and I can see the progress I have made through the stages of grief.  I am seeking help to deal with these issues and have received conflicting opinions in regard to my progress, so I came to the Abbey in the hope of sorting things out and finding the truth.
The Abbey sits on a large piece of acreage and there are some hills behind the Abbey itself that are covered with Douglas Fir trees.  There are hiking trails through the forest for the enjoyment of the monks and their guests.


Last Fall they began clearing out most of the Douglas Fir trees from several acres so that they could develop an “Oak Savanna”, which, according to my biologist friend, is similar to a ‘grove’.  The clearing continued this summer, and I was dreading my first evening walk once they had finished.  I didn’t have to go very far to see just how many trees had been removed.









Part of me expected to be sad…..but I was struck by how much land I could see now…..and also by an instinctive notion that once the grasses and other plants native to Oak groves began to grow (Now that the sunlight could reach them), this land would be far more beautiful than it was before!








I wasn’t planning to take a walk today because it has been raining and the ground is soggy and muddy.  But the sun was out and some fresh air sounded very nice.  Before I knew it, I had trekked my way (wearing a full-length jumper and flat ballet style shoes), to the top of the stripped and scarred hillside. I found a semi-dry log and sat down to pray.








Rosary in hand, looking over the countryside, I made the sign of the cross, and was then given the revelation that THIS was an appropriate metaphor for what was happening in my life because of the abuse.











As I sat there looking at the scarred, barren landscape, dotted with black patches from burning, and piles of brush that had been scraped away by bulldozers, I began to see many ways that this did compare with what is going on in my soul.









Before the clearing began, the hillside looked like a healthy Douglas Fir forest…..a tall carpet of green. (What hides beneath?)
Before I learned what my abuse had done to me, I “looked” like a normal middle-aged mom and grandmother…..although one with a rich spiritual life that many do not understand…. and also with hidden wounds and scars.









After the clearing, and in light of what the land was being transformed into, it was obvious that the Fir trees, other small trees, blackberries, and a variety of other plants that grew under the Fir trees, were actually hindering the oaks from growing as they should.  Other vegetation was also inhibited, or non-existent, due to the lack of sunlight on the forest floor.








After I learned what my abuse had done to me, it was obvious that distorted perceptions of reality, mixed-up understandings of what love and loyalty were, and other lies (that I had to believe in order to survive), had inhibited my emotional growth.  It also severely limited the amount of Son-light that could get through to me at a conscious level, and allowed mental/emotional/spiritual briars and brush to choke out virtues and gifts.








Looking at the cleared, barren hillside, I noticed the scrawny little oak trees that dotted the whole expanse.  They weren’t even visible before, now they are symbols of what is to come.  They don’t look like much, but they are strong and hardy.
The Lord tells me that my ‘scrawny oaks’ are gifts and virtues that have not been able to grow because they were bound and choked by evil.  He also brings my attention to how numerous they are……and strong……and hardy.








Noticing the piles of brush and debris scattered here and there, the Lord tells me that these symbolize the evil spirits I have renounced, as well as old behaviors, negative patterns of thought, sinfulness, and distorted/mistaken/misguided beliefs and perceptions that I have now rejected.










My eyes are drawn to a partially burned tree stump, with blackened ground and charred branches around it.  The Lord tells me that these symbolize the evil, doubt, and fear that I have already overcome.  The ash and charred remains will be broken down, and will nourish the new life to come.













The hillside has contours, level spots, and other natural peaks and valleys that prevent one from being able to see the whole hillside from any one point.  We must travel from one point to the next in order to see all of it.









This tells me that there will be challenges ahead that I can’t see yet.  I am also aware that I don’t need to be afraid of this… will be similar debris (various aspects of discovering and dealing with the impact of abuse, the grief of associated loss, and the process of learning new ways of being.), just in different areas of my life.  There is no place in my life untouched by abuse.


Here I sit, surveying the exposed ruin of my life.
Poppie (God the Father), tells me, “This is it.  This is the last hidden place, or dead (dark) spot in my soul.  Now I need to rest and heal, patiently waiting for the times of new growth, which will come in stages as the spiritual Savanna matures.  It is a time of hope…..and I do feel hope in a way I never have before.  There is no longer any fear attached to it.





Finally, my attention is brought to the mighty oak trees that already dot the hillside.  They represent well-established gifts and virtues that I already possess.










As my understanding of all this winds down, I see in my mind’s eye, the little balls that you find under oak trees.  The one’s that ‘pop’ when you step on them just right….if they aren’t damaged.  (I still like stomping on them….)
The Lord tells me that these represent the fruit of the mature oaks. Fruits little and big that delight and bring joy…….for myself……and to the heart of my God.

I also realize there is a connection, and special significance, to the word ‘grove’ for me because St. John of the Cross uses it in two stanza’s of the Spiritual Canticle. (Stanza’s 5 and 39)

Stanza 39, p-11:   the grove and its living beauty
“This is the third gift the bridegroom will bestow on the soul.  Since many plants and animals are nurtured in it, the “grove” refers to God, for he nurtures and gives being to all creatures rooted and living in him.  Through this gift God shows himself to her and reveals himself a creator.
By the “living beauty” of this grove, for which she asks the bridegroom here, she intends to beg for the grace, wisdom, and beauty that every earthly and heavenly creature not only has from God but also manifests in its wise, well ordered gracious, and harmonious relationship to other creatures. 
We find this accord among the lower creatures and among the higher, and we find it as well in the relationships between the higher and the lower.  The knowledge of this harmony fascinates and delights the soul.”


Am I grateful for my abuse?  Only partially right now.  There is still a lot of pain and sorrow to deal with, but I have already had the opportunity to share my story and talk about this with a few others who are hurting…it helps both them and me.  It feels really good to do so!
I believe with all my heart that God will transform my pain and sorrow into something more beautiful and holy, than the evil and darkness ever were.

Post Script ~ Two friends have mentioned that the clearing in this photo is heart-shaped.  I didn’t even see it.  And one of the monks told me that they were doing this project to restore the land to the way it originally was before the fir trees were allowed to grow uncontrolled.      
What I see from these two pieces of information is that God is restoring ‘my heart’ to the way He originally created it to be…..before the affects of abuse were allowed to grow…..unknown….and also uncontrolled.  
Blessed be God forever!