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Re-building the Ruined Places: A journey out of childhood trauma by Lorraine Cavanagh

13 January 2023

Jennie Hogan reads a memoir of an abused child of rich parents

MY MOTHER was the most beautiful woman in London,” the priest and theologian Lorraine Cavanagh states, as if it were a matter of fact rather than pride. Her lavish childhood home in Belgravia was packed with famous people. Drink-fuelled parties began at lunchtime and continued into the night.

But the trappings of wealth, glamour, and power never really seduced Cavanagh. Indeed, her stirring memoir (Feature, 6 January) reveals that home was not only a gilded cage, but also an unsafe and barren place. It is Marge the housekeeper’s flat on a council estate where she felt safe and nurtured. Marge is the only still, sane point for her, until God begins to be revealed.

With a youth awash with incongruent contrasts and absurdities, it is unsurprising that Cavanagh found the world and her own self confusing. Tragically, the fragility of her childhood was persistently overlooked by many adults. The book’s title alone points to the devastating consequences that emotional deprivation, negligence, and sexual abuse wreak.

The “tidal pull of God”, however, as Cavanagh powerfully puts it, pervades her pilgrimage from an early age, in mostly Roman Catholic churches, from London, Paris, Italy (where her grandmother had a three-hundred-room castle), Ibiza, and New York, to an Anglican curacy in Brixton. Now, as she is rooted in contemplative prayer, the reception of God’s fragile grace is at the heart of her life. It is by “working through the grain of the cross” that forgiveness can be found.

Although the “ruined place” of her re-configured self is seen as a new creation, it certainly retains fissures. Such delicate tracing of her early life here bears the hallmark of patient psychological and theological refinement. Her walk at Christ’s “measured pace” understandably privileges being, not doing.

Extensive reflections follow, allowing readers to reflect theologically and personally. Many will certainly find Cavanagh’s personal memoir a remarkably nuanced, tragic, and yet hopeful account of a life to which the “unaccountable joy” of God ultimately brings transformation.

The Revd Jennie Hogan is a priest and psychotherapist.


Re-building the Ruined Places: A journey out of childhood trauma
Lorraine Cavanagh
Ameo Books £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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