Hearing news reports about the Jerry Sandusky trial makes me wonder if there indeed is a special place in hell for child molesters. As a mother and a social worker, I doubt whether life in prison is adequate punishment. If Dante Alighieri's medieval Italian poetry was divinely inspired, sexual abusers might get their just desserts after their lives in prison. But what about their victims left behind? Where do they turn for healing? Can a paternalistic father figure or a masculine divinity provide it? Counselors and trauma recovery therapists have their work cut out for them, coming along side victims on the long road to recovery, helping them rediscover wholeness along the way.
63-year-old Jeanette Stanhaus had the bravery to confront the difficult pilgrimage towards healing in writing her first novel, In Times of Trouble. Stanhaus' successful and worldly protagonist, Allison Von Otto, unexpectedly revisits her own sexual trauma. Allison's path towards restoration is not found in the high class luxuries and trysts in which she typically indulges, but in the simple, medieval representation of the divine feminine. Steeped in eloquent descriptions of her colorful lifestyle, powerful visual scenery and sensual designer products characteristic of full page ads in travel and epicurean magazines, Stanhaus' book takes the reader on a surprising journey of discovery to Notre-Dame de Sous-Terre in France's Chartres Cathedral.
When Stanhaus was 25 years old, she embarked on a successful Chicago career in advertising and public relations. Imagine the hutzpah it took for a young energetic woman coming out of the Mad Men era to start her own agency in 1974. "I loved my clients and working with my all-male freelance creative team to produce marketing products," she remembers. "Work wasn't a grind, even though I logged between sixty to eighty hours a week."
Stanhaus packed 40 years of projects into 20 years, retiring from her first career at age 45 to focus on independent writing and to relocate to Santa Fe. "In 1985, I was invited to Santa Fe as a house guest. It was the most unusual place I'd ever been in America. I was drawn to Santa Fe by an intense longing I could not resist, much less explain."
Meanwhile, a childhood friend telephoned Stanhaus with the shocking and disturbing news about uncovered memories of her father's deviant, sexual assaults that began when she was a small child. She told me:
To witness her emotional, psychological and physical fallout was beyond disturbing. No one talked about sexual abuse back then (in the late 1980s). This haunted me. Then, out of nowhere, people I did not know stopped me on the street, in the ladies room, sat next to me on the ski lift and told me their survivor stories. Each story was horrifyingly different, but there was a pattern to their pain and aspects of their trauma. The novel appeared in my head.
The crucial question of whether and how a victim ever recovers from the trauma of sexual abuse plagued Stanhaus, and she intuited that her story's heroine needed to reach a supernatural level of healing. Raised a Catholic, the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church greatly influenced Stanhaus' writing, again with personal experiences of friends motivating her to "bring hope and healing from the Divine Feminine for those who suffer in silence." While in Paris celebrating her 50th birthday, she received an invitation to participate in a conference on the Divine Mother at Chartres Cathedral. "The Black Madonna in the crypt -- 'Our Lady Under the Earth' -- transmitted her wisdom in an instant as I sat before her," Stanhaus remembers. "Then it took me a few years to figure it all out and turn it into fiction."
Over the last 20 years, Stanhaus has travelled to find her muse in other Madonnas including: Our Lady of Guadalupe basilica near Teotihuacan, Mexico, The Black Madonna in Einsiedeln, Switzerland and the Casa de Dom Inacio in Abadiania, Brazil. Furthermore, at home in Santa Fe, whose name means "Holy Faith," Stanhaus loves that, "everyone who lives here feels blessed, and dudes proudly sport Guadalupe tattoos."
For boomers age 50+ who might feel the nudge to follow their muse and pursue an encore career, Stanhaus suggests the following:
Life is about the search for the missing pieces of our soul, and it seems to proceed along a carefully arranged sequence of coincidences that are not accidental. Ennui is simply not acceptable. Your mind directs your body. Always see yourself as thirty years old. See yourself as perfect, whole and complete, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Stanhaus clarifies that "you don't have to have money or go to Chartres for a numinous experience," referring to what she wrote in the final pages of her book: "Faith and gratitude are always free and accessible to everyone, everywhere."