“I always knew that he loved me and that whether I survived or I didn’t, he would always be there and that my family would always love me no matter what happened.” — Elizabeth Smart
“I am determined to stand whether God will deliver me or not.” — Bob Dylan
In two very different contexts, with public figures at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of cultural cachet, we find the same depth of faith. Elizabeth Smart is the young woman who was kidnapped from her bedroom at the age of 14 and subjected to a horrendous ordeal for nine months. She endured daily sexual violation by a self-proclaimed prophet obeying the delusionary dictates of his God to “receive” a virgin wife, aided and abetted by his actual wife.
Although Elizabeth’s emotions understandably ran the gamut of trauma and despair, her unwavering faith remained intact. Elizabeth’s essential experience and message for others, which was tested in the extreme, is that one’s worth can never be diminished by how we are perceived or treated. Now almost 30, married and expecting her second child, Elizabeth has done much as an advocate for children’s rights, advancing the cause of sexual predator and human trafficking legislation.
In 2012, Elizabeth was honoured with the Siena Award, named after St. Catherine of Siena, who broke through the sexist bondage of her time, resisting both forced marriage and conventional religious life, to become a Doctor of the Church in our time. While still a teenager like Elizabeth, Catherine advised when enduring trouble and trials to “Build a cell inside your mind, from which you can never flee.”
This is exactly what Elizabeth did in captivity while literally chained to a tree. She invoked the unconditional love of God and her family. One of her breakthrough moments came when she was finally able to look her tormentor in the eyes and not look away before he did. She “could stand on my own two feet” and hold her ground with confidence in the redemptive qualities of faith, resiliency, and gratitude, to which her life since her rescue is a testimony. Interestingly, this was the last message of Thomas Merton shortly before he died. “From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own two feet.”
There are few who have stood on their own two feet artistically as much as Bob Dylan, now characterized as a latter-day Homer thanks to this year’s Nobel Prize. (See Caitlin Ward’s column in the PM Oct. 26th issue.) Dylan could also be cast as an Old Testament prophet or New Testament John the Baptist, a voice crying in the post-modern wilderness. (See Dylan’s Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks.) Yet in the later 1980s, Dylan lost his sense of vocation under the weight of the persona meant to attract/deflect attention with respect to his calling as a roaming troubadour/reluctant prophet. He had strayed from the “cell inside his mind” by increasingly projecting a caricature of himself. Then on stage in Switzerland, the revelation quoted above came to him, which was a turning point in being faithful to his musical muse. His was the opposite task of claiming his worth, with it being extolled to unbearable proportions.
For Dylan, it’s always been about staying true to his voice and vision, no matter what the career consequences or distortions of fame. “It’s kind of a thing you have to keep to your own self, because it’s a fragile feeling. And if you put it out there, someone will kill it. So it’s best to keep that all inside.”
On the surface, the only thing Bob Dylan and Elizabeth Smart have in common is music (she plays the harp). Yet they share an indomitable faith in our eternal value, which nothing of this world can defile or finally deny.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series entitled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via email@example.com