Grief to Grace


‘THE   WHOLE   PURPOSE   OF   LIFE   IS   TO   LOVE   AND   BE   LOVED.’ ~ Dr Theresa Burke

Today I went on a training seminar in London with Dr. Theresa Burke MA, PhD, DAPA, NCCP, LPC, founder of Rachel’s Vineyard  ~ the largest post abortion ministry in the world.

‘Her healing programs offer a unique sensory based treatment which integrates emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions.  This distinct program provides an exceptional and effective recovery process for victims of trauma and those who have spent years in talk therapy, but still struggle to move beyond their traumatic experience.’

Since 1993, the Rachel’s Vineyard model has spread to 49 states and over 70 countries.

You can read more about this vital ministry here.

The day was open to health professionals, priests and deacons, counselors and those involved or wishing to support the work of Rachel’s Vineyard.   The seminars covered; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Traumatic Re-enactment.  The role of a priest in Post Abortion Ministry. The power of the present. Cooling the flames of anger. & Facilitating skills for groups.

Having trained with the N.H.S as a Health Trainer ~  having attained a Pastoral Mission Degree ~ and now training as a Spiritual Director, I thought this seminar might give me a vital insight into the trauma that I might come face to face with in my own ministry ~ and equip me with the relevent tools and a deeper understanding of post abortion grief, in order to assure the best pastoral counselling practice in service to those who need accompanying.  We know that unhealed abortion trauma is highest in areas of low poverty, and within certain communities like those of  The Armed Forces, where it is socially unacceptable for women who are serving, to be pregnant.  In the area where I live 12% of the children are on the child protection register, this is 6% higher than the next highest town in our diocese.  When I was at Heythrop studying my Pastoral Mission degree, the results of my research were indicative of this great poverty ~ thus now assuring me that there is an absolute social need for Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries to be serving and healing people in this demographic area.

The seminar was brilliant ~ Dr Burke was a warm, gentle, friendly, down to earth, and personable woman ~ who wasn’t afraid to use ‘bad language’ when repeating some of her retreatants reactions to their healing process ~ real language that I have never heard another professional presenter ever dare to use at a seminar before now ~ absolutely diffused by Dr Burkes warm response ~ this made me smile.  It held no offence what so ever ~ but distinctly relayed the grief which some people vocalize when exposing their particular trauma.

I couldn’t believe some of the figures being thrown around.  43% of all woman in America by the age of 40 would have had a termination.  50% of these women would hide the effects that they have had a termination.  These women live with a forbidden grief ~ many of them are living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Trauma of any sort can be so deeply repressed in the mind, but the body doesn’t forget, and this causes all manner of responses to the victim. They may suffer with all, or any of the following;

Hyper arousal (reactivity upon experience) so for instance people would avoid going back to the clinic or doctors because it acts as a hyper arousal trigger causing  panic attacks, anxiety disorders, helplessness, hyper vigilance (always on alerts for threats of danger) exaggerated state responses, sleep deprivation (which in itself we know is responsible for over 70 illnesses).  Testosterone is higher in women with high stress levels ~ Termination rates on the rise are causing more stress to more women ~ and are indicative of why we are seeing more children born on the autism scale.  higher levels of autism we know are linked to higher levels of testosterone! 

Intrusion (intrusive thoughts), the re-living of the experience, flashbacks or fragments of flashbacks, nightmares, daymares.  Often the person feels victimized, powerless and alone.  Many post abortive women experience this intrusion as repeat pregnancies & repeat abortions, as  risk taking behaviour, suicidal tendencies, as real fear of harming her other children, fear of punishment, fear of a new baby dying or being harmed or killed.

Constriction  (the numbing of ones emotions)  helplessness and an inability to recall. Alcohol and drug abuse (which is at its highest rate post abortion) or when re-pregnant. Relationship failure.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Often the woman will have an incompetent cervix as a response to sexual arousal, which is a tight closing of the cervix preventing penetration.

Disassociation (when the conscious and unconscious are not united anymore) sexual abuse victims often visualize themselves elsewhere, so as not to endure repeated abuse. Trauma has impact on the memory.  People often disassociate once a point of progress is made.

So the circle of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would look something like this.

Hyper Arousal (exaggerated responses) > Constriction (avoidance, drink, drugs, suicidal thoughts) > Intrusion (subconscious draws attention) > Disassociation back to Hyper Arousal.  It’s a vicious circle.

Symptoms can surface in helplessness, anger, abandonment, shame, humiliation, betrayal, and over obsession with the body which may manifest itself in self harming excessive piercings etc.  Dr Burke talked about the infliction of pain to ones own body and used tattooing as an example.  Never having experienced a termination myself (but having experienced the grief of a miscarriage in my late thirties) and having had two tattoo’s myself upon my coming of age, I could assure Dr Burke that the rose on my ankle and the fish (dolphin) on my arm were merely a marker of my claiming my own rights of passage, as a young woman.  A marker, which once was unusual upon women, claimed a certain artistic individuality ~ later becoming all too fashionable.  Eeek.  It was nothing to do with inflicting pain upon myself.  :O)

However women have often been victims of pain, abuse and traumatisation over the years right from the times of having to endure the chastity belt ~ to E.C.G treatment (where 70% of patients were women, suffering from some kind of trauma or mental distress, prescribed their treatment by men).  Then came the feminists lobbying to legalize abortions (imagining that this would help women, by taking the social stigma of abortion away) ~ this actually has caused women catastrophic results.  Then there is the constant chemical assault of contraceptives ~ and the cancers and health implications they cause.

We know that the hormones produced in the breast when a woman is pregnant helps to support the pregnancy.  We also know that when a miscarriage occurs there is not enough of this hormone present to support the pregnancy and it naturally disperses itself.  But Dr Burke says that further unpublicised research shows that when a pregnancy is terminated this hormone is still prevalent in the womans breasts, and now unrequired struggles to dilute and diffuse itself by its usual means ~ and may be a prime cause in the rise of breast cancers.  We know that breast-feeding mothers are at a far lower risk of breast cancer than that of bottle feeding mothers.  And yet none of these findings are publicised because it would lose money for the big pharmaceutical companies that are promoting and selling their products, (baby milk, contraception, etc)  and that are financially back-handing those political parties who are in power.

Dr Burke says that all these women in trauma are battle fatigued.  She said “it takes two people to speak the truth ~ one to listen and one to hear.  However talk therapy alone does not help these victims, especially post abortive women.”  Her research reveals that it is a more sensual therapy which grounds the victim.  Recovery work engages all 5 senses stimulating the healing process ~ 70 % of the oxygen in your brain goes to your muscles, hence Rachel’s Vineyard facilitates a specially composed retreat where a more holistic healing takes place.  Rachel’s Vineyard provides this treatment in a 40+ hour residential healing retreat.  Dr Burke says “you know you are treating the problem, when the symptoms begin to go away.”  If you give something the right attention it looses its power.

Sharing grief is extremely bonding if you do it in a healing way.   This is where a priest can be a vital first-line contact that can guide a wounded soul.  Often victims use confession as a ritual of grieving (over, and over, and over again) as an unhealthy way of mes-materialising their child ~ but somebody will keep on repeating their story until they feel ‘heard’.  However honesty is an important part of the healing process, and removes any denial.  Rachel’s Vineyard works with the victim of trauma to move them forwards; to get the victim to begin with admitting that they have been deceived, takes away the need for lying ~ and releases the energy used which was maintaining denial. This allows for repentance which strips away self-contempt and hatred.

As a result of witnessing this seminar today my faith in Catholic Healing Ministry has been somewhat restored.    On raising my distaste at the Evangelical Charismatic practices, Dr Burke said to me personally that she felt  “If the Catholic Church spoke more about healing from a medical perspective, more people would take courage in the Church’s healing ministry.”  I totally agree.   For me it is absolutely abhorrent that certain Evangelical Charismatics are regularly ‘exorcising’ people of ‘bad spirits’, and ‘casting out demons’ and so-called ‘possessions’ at so-called ‘healing retreats’  and Charismatic events ~ in an over-spiritualised way ~ which reeks of an inauthentic, unmedical, self-appointed, unsupervised farce ~ not dissimilar to that of the ‘new-age’ practices which the Catholic Church absolutely rejects.

This Catholic Evangelical practice, operating quite confidently at Charismatic events, offering their ministry to young people and others who might be hurting, is often endorsed and supported by a few Catholic priests who have a slant towards the Charismatic movement.  But I have witnessed one of these ‘healing’ Evangelical Charismatic retreats, and I can tell you from experience that although they might have the best of intentions for their retreatants, they are praying on often vulnerable, naive and insecure souls, who  can not emotionally translate these evangelical healing experiences ~ and are left living with a greater spiritual fear.  These hurting people would do better to return to their parishes and be re-directed towards Rachel’s Vineyard.

I learnt much about the response to many traumas on today’s seminar, and not just post abortive trauma ~ but other traumas that cause a cycle of deep despair ~ as with all addictions, Dr Theresa says “it’s about whats eating you ~ and not about what you are eating!”  Her programmes are highly regarded for their compassionate reverence for each person’s dignity and worth, based on a firm Christian foundation as well as sound medical and psychological principles.  The refreshing thing about the techniques I witnessed today is that they were grounded on real, tangible, medical models of counselling, but integrated emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions, making this holistic ministry worth its weight in Gold!  ~  Every diocese should be running these retreats.  

Grief to Grace is another one of the programmes composed by Dr Theresa Burke (a 5 day retreat) providing safety and support for anyone who has suffered degradation, or violation through physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect ~ healing the wounds of abuse. It is appropriate for those who have endured rape, incest or other forms of traumatic violation and for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the clergy.


However for those who are honest before God ~ who trusted in their confessor and spiritual director ~ who are chaste ~ who genuinely Love ~ who are devoted ~ who have been falsely held up for being either a ‘loose’ or ‘provocative’ woman, else one of ‘abuse victim mentality’ ~ used as a scapegoat ~ slandered ~ and had their dignity unjustly accosted before the other priests, parishioners and Sr’s of the diocese.  Been banished and held separate from the Mother Temple (and fellow parishioners) on all special occasions and events, on account of False allegations ~ and been questioned and held by the police on Cathedral grounds, simply for attending lectures and seminars.

To be rejected Not by God ~ but by the men of the cloth working on His behalf ~ For this No retreat is going to heal.

In my own experience of pastoral care within the Catholic Church I have noted a real need for a more mature (and less patronising) visibly articulate dialogue between priest and parishioner when it comes to pastoral accompaniment,  spiritual direction, vocational growth and friendship ~ that which goes beyond a priesthood which often only permits itself to communicate in a less defined and often subliminal ‘spiritual’ or distant way, maybe because they are  ‘afraid of letting themselves get too close to others’ and therefore ‘erect a series of physical and emotional boundaries’ where communication is often oblique, distorted or completely thwarted ~ thus rendering their full understanding of any situation incomplete.  Thus the unqualified perceptions received by their hypersensitive pastoral antenna, remain unconfirmed, unchallenged, and  often not discussed fully, or tested further by raising sensitive issues to a more mature dialogue, in a fully open and comprehensive way ~ rather than  assuming a patronising imbalanced response.

What would heal this situation – is to work through the uncomfortable injustice with the people directly concerned.  For the wrongs to be worked right and transcended.   To  once again attend the Diocesan Cathedral ~ without the priests being moved away.  (because that leaves unresolved conflict) (which doesn’t make for healing!)  Not to stop people who care about each other from ever seeing each other alive again.  But to learn from the appalling  hand-fisted way of dealing with a pastoral concern in the wrong manner.   Where a mother and her children now no longer feel a welcome part of their own diocese and cease to worship in community ~ and can not afford to continually cross the border into the next diocese.   Where this has all failed badly, we should maturely address it and learn from our mistakes.  Deal with it again (correctly in an above-board manner) ~ where all parties are fully informed of the measures put in place to move forwards ~ and restore the situation to one of dignity.  We apologise.  We forgive.  We heal.   I Am mature enough to do this.   And if that’s impossible because you think there is still an issue that can never be fully addressed . . . .

Then maybe God has a point  that He is trying to make to you!

Grief   to   Grace.

Who Are the Poor?

The poor are the center of the Church. But who are the poor? At first we might think of people who are not like us: people who live in slums, people who go to soup kitchens, people who sleep on the streets, people in prisons, mental hospitals, and nursing homes. But the poor can be very close. They can be in our own families, churches or workplaces. Even closer, the poor can be ourselves, who feel unloved, rejected, ignored, or abused.

It is precisely when we see and experience poverty – whether far away, close by, or in our own hearts – that we need to become the Church; that is, hold hands as brothers and sisters, confess our own brokenness and need, forgive one another, heal one another’s wounds, and gather around the table of Jesus for the breaking of the bread. Thus, as the poor we recognise Jesus, who became poor for us.


About mags

Beloved apostle of His Soul x
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