Breanna Mekuly, a summer intern at Benetvision and Monasteries of the Heart, took the opportunity this summer to interview Ruth Everhart, pastor, author and member of Monasteries of the Heart in anticipation of the upcoming release of Ruth's second memoir, Ruined, based on her experience of sexual assault as a young woman of faith and its impact on her emotional and spiritual journey.
BM: The letter to your daughters at the end of the book is beautiful and greatly summarizes your current understanding of God, yourself, women, and love. Thank you for sharing such an intimate letter with the general audience of readers. I’m wondering about your overall hoped-for audience. Who were you hoping would read your story?
RE: I address the book to my daughters — which includes not just the two daughters I gave birth to, but all daughters — all the women who have felt hopeless at some point in their lives simply because they were born in a woman’s body and victimized because of that fact. I especially want to speak to women who have turned to their faith tradition for solace and found very little healing there. Regrettably, that is a very broad audience, especially when you add the people who love those women, which would be my secondary audience.
BM: The intimate personal stories – not told just from an event standpoint, but also delving into your deepest thoughts, prayers, and beliefs – allow the reader to enter into your mind and journey with you on a theological and relational level. What was most challenging about writing this book?
RE: It was challenging to reenter the dark places of my own story — both in my thought processes and in my emotional life. I had to reengage the sense of despair that had overwhelmed me, and the feelings of worthlessness that followed. In short, in order to write RUINED, I had to allow myself to feel ruined all over again.
BM: What was most rewarding about writing this book?
RE: It was rewarding to get to the other side of the writing. I felt a sense of closure — as in closing an enormous open loop of story — and also of having come full circle. To me the writing was a way to reap blessing from pain.
BM: How does this story intertwine with or advance your work as a pastor?
RE: One of the gifts of being a pastor is preaching to the same members of the Body of Christ week after week. I see this book as allowing me to reach people in that same, personal way, but more members — and more diverse members — of that same Body. Already I have been astounded at how varied the book’s audience is. I have heard from advance readers who call themselves Evangelical Protestants, or Progressive Mainliners, or Socially Active Catholics. When dealing with the experience of sexual violence, those labels no longer matter. Any person of faith who experiences violence in a personal way needs to face particular questions. Without intending to travel, a victim has been set on a painful faith journey. The work of pastor is to shepherd or guide, and I hope this book can serve that function.
BM: Sister Joan Chittister often writes about the journey of following one’s heart into deeper relationship with God; and she never fails to mention that this path can be messy, confusing, and not as we originally had planned. It seems that your own tangled path searching for authenticity and relationship with God that you shared in the book follows this journey Sister Joan describes. You could have told the story of the brutal rape you experienced in more generic terms. Why did you choose to describe the event in a more graphic manner?
RE: I believe it was Flannery O’Connor who said that there are only a handful of stories in human life, but they keep on repeating themselves as powerfully as if they had never happened before. In other words, our stories are mostly common and shared, and become powerful in their unique details. It is precisely each story’s particularity that makes it ring with universal truth.
BM: What was it like to tell this story?
RE: Telling this story was difficult, exhilarating, exhausting, maddening, terrifying, and liberating.
BM: Did anyone help you as you journeyed through these experiences?
RE: Yes. This was why my book acknowledges many of my fellow companions on the journey. The fellow victims who shared these experiences helped me in many ways, both at the time of the trauma, and as I wrestled to get the story onto the page. My parents and siblings helped me by being willing to let me share this story, about which they felt many complicated emotions. My husband and daughters helped most of all, just by knowing me so thoroughly, and loving me anyway.
BM: What do you most hope for with the publication of this book?
RE: I hope this book helps readers by giving them a companion for a journey they never wanted to take. I also hope it prompts people of faith, and faith communities, to be more open about the way they approach victims of sexual violence. I even dare to hope that faith communities will take a hard look at the topic of sexual purity — and to become aware of the downside of a traditional over-emphasis on this topic, especially for girls and women.
BM: Is there anything you might like to add?
RE: Just that I so admire all of the Benedictine Sisters and their devotion to the cause of the gospel. Their example has taught me about the blessings of hospitality, and I hope that sharing my story will bless others in turn.