Forgiving what seemed unforgivable

After rape, a woman finds peace through prayer.

At about midnight one night I woke up suddenly to see a young man in a loose-fitting shirt standing in my bedroom doorway. "I have a gun and I'm going to kill you," he said, nodding to what appeared to be the barrel of a revolver pointed at me from under his right-hand front shirttail, "unless you do what I want."

I didn't argue. I prayed.

As he attacked me, this statement flooded my thought: "Remember, thou canst be brought into no condition, be it ever so severe, where Love has not been before thee and where its tender lesson is not awaiting thee. Therefore, despair not nor murmur, for that which seeketh to save, to heal, and to deliver, will guide thee, if thou seekest this guidance." It's from a collection of writings by Mary Baker Eddy, "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany."

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Next I silently prayed the Lord's Prayer.

Today, all these years later, it's apparent to me that the spiritual fortitude that sustained me and the "tender lessons" I learned through this experience were the beginning of my serving today in the healing ministry of Christian Science.

As soon as the man left, I went to my mother's room and told her what had happened. She hadn't heard anything, because her bedroom was on the opposite side of the house from mine, in the beach house we lived in on the island of Saipan in what was then the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

She responded with her usual comfort, grace, and wisdom, "Your God-given purity has never been touched. And in reality, neither has his."

The events that followed went very fast.

We reported the crime to the police, who then searched the island and produced a lineup of four men. It was easy to identify my assailant. "Are you sure?" the policeman asked. "Absolutely," I said. "I will never forget that face!"

So I made the formal charge of rape against the man. Then a court date was set two weeks from then.

At the trial, despite the assailant's denial not only of the rape charge but of ever owning a gun, my repeated declaration that I would never forget his face ultimately prevailed. He was convicted of forcible rape and sentenced to four years in prison.

So there we were.

I should have been peaceful. Justice would appear to have been done. But I was miserable. I felt violated. And I was steeped in self-condemnation. I couldn't forgive myself.

As it turned out, he hadn't had a gun, and I felt so stupid that all my actions had been governed by fear of a gun that he never had. He'd told me that he had one, and I had believed the lie.

After the trial, my mother and I left Saipan, and for the next two years I worked in San Francisco. I prayed constantly to be a better person, a genuinely pure and humble individual. And in the process I discovered, lodged deep in my consciousness, concepts of myself that didn't belong there. So I began, meticulously, to purify my life. This passage from the Bible was my guide: "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. purify your hearts, ye double-minded" (James 4:8).

And purify my heart I did.

Then one day, two years after the events on Saipan, I suddenly knew I was free. I had finally forgiven myself – my real, pure self. I had also forgiven the man who attacked me. As my mother had said at the time, my purity had never been touched. Nor had his.

Shortly after this glorious revelation, I happened to be on Saipan again and encountered the public defender involved in the case. "In all the time I've been dealing with him," he said, "he's never admitted to the rape. But the other day I was visiting him in his cell, and he said, 'I did it, and I'm sorry. I hope she can forgive me.' "

I had. Which brought sweet healing to both of us.

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