Busted: Liz Kelly

Author of The Rosary: A Path into Prayer

BH: Did you confront him afterward?

LK: Yes, yes, I did. And that was a very healing thing to do. I didn’t end up pressing charges, just because other women already had. And the damage had already been done by the time I got to the point where I would have been willing to do that. And I was really confused for a while. I was just in shock. I don’t know what else to say. I just kind of checked out and said, ‘That didn’t really happen.’ And you remember that on some level. Especially your body remembers that on some level. Eventually I had to deal with the pain of that situation. I think, if anything, one of the prayers that I’ve learned to pray as I’ve gotten older is that as a young person, sometimes you say, ‘Just don’t let anything bad happen to me. Take this away from me.’ And then I think of what Christ did in Gethsemane: ‘Not my will but, yours be done.’ Sure take this away, if that’s possible, if there’s any other way, take it away, but if not, let’s use it and don’t let it go to waste. And that is the prayer that I really started to apply during the healing process around that particular violation. This thing happened, just don’t let it go to waste, don’t let it go to waste. Boy, I tell you, that is a prayer that God is so willing to answer. It sounds almost bizarre to say it, but I’m almost happy that it has happened because of the fruit that it has borne in my life in terms of helping other women. Showing them that, not only can you be restored, even better. It’s going to be even better. I feel completely comfortable in my sexuality. I don’t have fear, I don’t have nightmares, I feel absolutely no resentment towards this man. I don’t even think about it anymore. And there was a time when I had to consciously pray for him, when I didn’t even mean it, and all of the sudden, I did start to mean it, my heart was filled with compassion for him. I could clearly see that it was not in me. It wasn’t because I was dirty, because I did something wrong. It was just this evil thing that happened. And God was going to use it. He was going to use it powerfully, and it’s made it so much easier for me as other trials and struggles have come along in my life to completely trust. Just completely relax into the arms of Jesus, and know that no matter how painful it is in the short term, in the long term God was going to turn this into gold. In part 1 of our interview with author and jazz singer Liz Kelly, the Minnesota native spoke about her family and her spiritual journey back to her faith in her late 20s–including her painful experience as a rape victim. In part 2, Kelly addresses the authors and artists who have shaped her own work as well as the perils of dating and being a person of faith at Harvard.

BustedHalo: You’ve devoted a lot of your time to music and literature, and it’s interesting that you’re talking about art forms that are not always conducive to orthodox faith. When you’re open to music or literature, clearly you’re open to minds that are very powerful and gifted and inspiring, though their work is not overtly, explicitly religious. I’m interested to hear how you reconcile those two.

Liz Kelly: God blesses whom He blesses, that Miles Davis does not recognize that his genius does not come from himself but from God is his loss; as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t make his music any less inspired. Now there can be evil inspiration too, but I think that you have to look at the fruit of the thing. If you are looking at a painting and it inspires you to contemplating something that is useful to your soul, then great. I think that Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water Reflections on Faith and Art is one of my standard go-to books in terms of reconciling the spiritual and creative life, and being creative literally means to take nothing and make something. God is the only one who can do that. The closest we can come to mirroring that process is making children or making art. Even then we’re given the world to work with ideas and things that come from God, so to me it is absolutely a means to divine connection to be in a creative field. Jazz, in particular, unlike classical music where it is performed largely the same way every time. Jazz is not. There is a lot of improvisation, and I think in some ways it’s even more open to hearing from the Holy Spirit and submitting yourself and really moving with Spirit, if you will.

There is evil in the world, so when Flannery O’ Connor’s characters shoot people and kill people mercilessly, that is, in my mind, an opportunity to explore redemption and grace and choices that people make, whether they’re right or wrong, and music can do the same thing. The Bible is filled with murder and infidels and nobody blinks about that. So, I really think that the same kind of opportunity is presented in the arts to expand on the relationship between God and man and also the sometimes-fickle sometimes-heroic heart of man.

BH: Popular culture is such an enormous part of many people’s lives. Some religious people clearly try to shut things out rather than believe that God is in all things. How do you reconcile that with what you do?

LK: I think that that is something that you really have to pray and fast about and get clarity with. For example, about 10 years ago, I got rid of my television; there was no good that was coming into me or my mind through that. It was damaging me. Now, that’s not a choice that everyone needs to make. That was just a choice that I needed to make. I would just sit there and turn it on and it was just blaring away all these advertisements. I got rid of it one Christmas. You know, when all the ads come on for Christmas stuff and I just thought, “My life doesn’t look like a credit card commercial, I don’t want it to look like a credit card commercial, and I’m tired of being told that I need to weigh 100 pounds and look like this and dress like that and own this car and I’m just sick of it. So I got rid of it. And I went through desperate withdrawal for about two weeks and then I realized that I never wanted the thing back. I immediately started publishing again, I was spending less money. I mean it was incredible the effect that removing that instrument from my life had. There were other means by which I could get news, and other things that I needed.

Now when I go into a home there’s a television, I just think, all this crap, and it’s just gotten pornographic over the last 10 years. To hear commercials, and they’re so loud, and music videos, I just thought, I can’t have my little nephews having access to this; it just breaks my heart. So there are some lines to be drawn, but that is up to everybody to do. And there are some people who can have TV and watch Biography and the wonderful things that are on TV or the news or whatever. But even the news, my sister was a television producer. She worked for the major companies that she contracted with were NBC and BBC, and she did a lot of international things as well. I think she had some pieces on like, Nightline and 20/20, is that NBC or ABC, I don’t remember. It just broke her heart. What actually makes it to the news is so far removed from the truth that she couldn’t tolerate it anymore. She also started having little babies and stuff, so she wanted to stay home, but so, I think everybody does need to be very aware and know what their personal weaknesses are, and also, what’s going to be problematic for them. There are movies that I’ve had to walk out of because they were disturbing my spirit.