This weekend we are celebrating our 18th annual Commencement ceremony, joining the 71 students who are marking the end of their time in our Master of Divinity, MA in Theology & Culture, and MA in Counseling Psychology programs. Among those students is Ruth Wiley, who has completed her studies at The Seattle School alongside her husband, Bill, and is pursuing work as a private practice therapist in North Carolina post-graduation. Here, Ruth shares a brief graduation story, writing about how her time at The Seattle School has invited her to be more hospitable to the parts of herself that were formerly clouded by shame.
Recently my personal space was invaded as I wandered in the hardware store. I was violated by a man ogling me, standing too close, and sneaking up behind me. My body was disrupted and my feelings somersaulted inside of me. I let out a loud moan/groan once back in my car. That helped me settle, and as I settled I began to wonder: how far back does this thread go? A long way, I said to myself.
Gradually, my mind’s eye shifted, and I began to remember moments when I have invaded the personal space not of strangers but of those I love—not in the same way as the man in the hardware store, but still dishonoring. I felt shame, regret, sorrow, and fear. Once again, I came in contact with this hard fact: to name what I have suffered opens the door in my heart to see how I’ve harmed others in other shades of violation.
As these uncomfortable stories sallied up to consciousness, I considered a quick and familiar squelching. But as a beloved professor says, “This is me.” These memories and stories are a part of me. This time I did not want to send these parts of myself back into isolation yet again.
So as my husband, Bill, and I sat down to lunch I said, “Are you up for some hard tales about me?” With his face, his eyes, his body, and his voice, he said that he was. “Okay then, here is some me that needs some sunshine.”
I told him my shame, making a concerted effort to speak the little “insignificant” details where my shame cowered trembling. I moved close to my shame, accompanied by a sense of kindness toward myself. Taking my shame by the hand, I said today, in these two stories, we are going for a walk in the sunshine with Bill. And we did.
Later in the day as more shame particles dispersed and settled in my body, a scripture chanced into my heart. At least I thought it was a Bible verse: “By our wounds we are healed.” Then I queried myself, “Wait, is that how it goes?”
“By his wounds we are healed,” Isaiah the prophet proclaims. But on this day, in a more spacious Ruth, I heard Jesus say that it is also by my very own particular wounds that Godself heals me.
These two multi-layered wounds shrouded in shame seemed to turn from ashes to stardust inside, drifting into a more communal spot inside of me. As trepidation around shame’s arrival recedes, there is a hospitality to myself that moves across the image of pasture that dwells in my chest.
When I sat down to write today I intended to write a more traditional graduation story, but “this is me.” And you know what? This is a Seattle School graduation story.