July 27, 2016 § 27 Comments
By Marcia Krause Bilyk
I was a bright, curious, talkative child raised by a mother who couldn’t tolerate the noise and disruption of four young children. Mother withdrew into herself and her housework, leaving us alone to resolve our issues in the backyard or basement playroom. My older sister Cynthia, who knew I was afraid of the dark, would race up the basement stairs, flick off the overhead light and yell, “The wolves are going to get you, the wolves are going to get you.” I’d pound on the locked door and beg to be let out. One fall afternoon as we sat on the curb in front of a pile of burning leaves, Cynthia heated her play golf club in the embers and placed it on my knee, saying, “Let’s play cowboys and Indians.” I still bear the scar.
Dad was a narcissist, prone to exuberant exaggeration and unpredictable outbursts. Mother swore us to secrecy. We weren’t to speak about our family outside of our home. Growing up I watched my every word. I was so anxious, so self-conscious, I could barely speak. Who would want to listen to what I had to say? What if I misspoke? What if I revealed something I shouldn‘t?
Following a panic attack in my late twenties, I saw a therapist for the first time. I couldn’t look him in the eye. For months, I spoke into the mid-distance between my chair and the wall. Speaking the truth about my family felt like a punishable offense. I was filled with guilt and shame. Over time, long-forgotten secrets emerged. Each revelation freed up space for me to be.
Years later, at Drew Theological School, where I studied for a Masters of Divinity, I was introduced to the writings of the feminist theologian Nelle Morton. She spoke of women who were silenced by outside forces or by their own fear, who later reclaimed their power through the telling of their stories. “We empower one another,” she said, “by hearing the other to speech.”
In the small groups that I’ve led as a pastor, I’ve witnessed women come alive as we listened to their stories. I now experience the same phenomenon in writing classes as we read our work aloud. When I sit alone my keyboard, otherwise hidden parts of me make themselves known. I become more whole.
For me, writing is revelation, an act of disclosing what has not been known or seen before. The unknown is called from darkness into light. It’s an act of creation not unlike when God spoke the world into being.
Marcia Krause Bilyk is a photographer, writer, and ordained minister who lives in rural New Jersey with her husband and three dogs.