On August 20, Alexandra Dyer, a Roman Catholic WomanPriest was the victim of a targeted acid attack to her face. Dyer had just left a meeting at The Healing Arts Initiative in Queens, NY. As she was walking to her car, a man in his 30’s came up from behind and said, “Can I ask you something?” As she turned to face her assailant, he threw a full cup of thick acid into her face. In her pain and hysteria, Dyer somehow managed to get into her car, driving approximately 200 feet before losing complete control. Her screams from the pain drew the attention of others, who called for help. Dyer suffered third degree burns to her face and hands. Here’s the thing about acid—it continues to inflect damage to the skin and bone after the fact. While Dyer will survive the physical attack, she will never be the same woman. Her outer scars will forever remind her of what she suffered—those physical features that made her Alexandra are gone, replaced by years of reconstructive surgery and further pain.
“Can I Ask You Something?”
Why? Why did this random, crazed man who presumably had no relationship with Alexandra choose her? Was it her position as a Roman Catholic WomanPriest? Her work with the HIV/AIDS community? Her commitment to the use of art as a conduit for healing? Those questions, as C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, A Grief Observed, after the death of his wife, are nonsense questions. “All nonsense questions are unanswerable,” pleads Lewis, “How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.” Still, I continue to circle around and around for an answer, something that helps to eliminate the staggering evil reality of this vicious attack.
“Can I Ask You Something?”
When the story first broke, The New York Post quoted Board President of the Roman Catholic WomenPriest movement Jennifer O’Malley who stated,
If (Dyer’s attack) was related to her being a woman priest (sic), it fully emphasizes the need for the church to allow and accept women who are called to ordination. As long as they continue to exclude us from the church, and the longer they continue to say that women are not fully capable to be priests or to hold other positions, then it will be much easier for people like this man or anyone else to say that women don’t have to be treated equally.
O’Malley soon retracted her statement in The National Catholic Reporter, stating “There is no information that we have that it was related to her being a priest.” I feel for O’Malley here.
When I read the news I too felt the attack had something to do with Dyer’s role as a WomanPriest—why is that? Is this another nonsense question that is unanswerable? The closer, more reliable truth, when reduced to its lowest common denominator is as simple and heart breaking as this: Dyer is a woman. Period. When you examine the use of acid attacks globally you quickly learn it is predominately women who are victims of acid attacks perpetrated by men who feel they must suffer but also be disfigured. The documentary, Stolen Faces: Acid Attacks chronicles the lives and recovery process of three women who are victims of facial acid attacks from varying geographical locations (Belgium, India, and England). Difficult to watch, Stolen Faces demonstrates the hope, courage and solidarity between the women burned, but also those who won’t quit them—medical staff, friends, and sometimes family.
“Can I Ask You Something?”
In an effort to minimize the mounting medical costs, projected to exceed $500,000, friend and WomanPriest Susan Schessler established a Go Fund page for Dyer as means of monetary assistance but also as a concrete way to demonstrate support from those who know her and those who do not. The road to recovery is going to be long and dramatic. I suspect those five words innocently spoken to Dyer, “Can I Ask You Something?” will continue to haunt her as she replays them in her head. But another reality is also possible, one that responds from a place of interconnected love and care. The sixteenth century nun and mystic Teresa of Avila comes the closest to this inclusive space when she states:
Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which Christ is to bless all people now.
While many who contribute or read FAR may not embrace Teresa of Avila’s Christocentric vision, the larger truth remains. We have the capacity to respond to evil with love, to change the words from “Can I Ask You Something?” to “Can I Be The Face of God/ess To You?” I hope you visit Dyer’s Go Fund page and learn more about this incredible woman. I also hope you find space in your busy lives to hold Alexandra Dyer in positive, healing energy. May this simple yet compelling Buddhist prayer join us together as we stand in solidarity with our sister:
May Alexandra be happy
May she be peaceful
May Alexandra be healed and whole
May Alexandra be at ease
May Alexandra be safe
and free from all suffering.
Cynthia Garrity-Bond is a feminist theologian and social ethicist, is completing her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University in women studies in religion with a secondary focus in theology, ethics and culture. For the past six years Cynthia has been teaching in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University where she completed both her BA and MA in Theology. Her research interests includes feminist sexual theology, historical theology with particular emphasis on religious movements of women, agency and resistance to ecclesial authority, embodiment, Mariology and transnational feminisms. Having recently returned from Southern Africa, Cynthia is researching the decriminalization of prostitution from a theological perspective.