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Trauma and Healing

Trauma and Healing

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Week Eighteen Summary and Practice

Sunday, May 2—Friday, May 7, 2021

Sunday
Great religion shows us what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the traumatic, the nonsensical, the unjust. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

Monday
You can do this, too. You can face your own sorrow, your own wounds. You can stop wanting some other life, some other past, some other reality. —Claude AnShin Thomas

Tuesday
No matter what anyone has done to us in the past, or is doing to us now, or might do to us in the future, this innermost, hidden center of ourselves remains invincibly established in God as a mysterious Presence, as a life that is at once God’s and our own. —James Finley

Wednesday
When we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain—the deep, agonizing soul pain that results from historical trauma—we aren’t able to recognize that we all carry some measure of that pain within us. —Sherri Mitchell

Thursday
If you’re silent, / you can hear the forest breathe, / the holy hush of the tree’s limb. —Felicia Murrell

Friday
Those who “gaze upon” the crucified Jesus (John 19:37) long enough—with contemplative eyes—are always healed at deep levels of pain, unforgiveness, aggressiveness, and victimhood.

 

Humming

Resmaa Menakem is a therapist who focuses on healing racial trauma. In his book My Grandmother’s Hands, he reminds readers of all races that the way to begin and to continue on the journey of healing trauma is to return to our bodies. This practice is rooted in Menakem’s memories of his grandmother. He recalls hearing her hum:

My grandmother was a strong and loving woman. But her body was frequently nervous. She often had a sense that something terrible was about to happen. It was an ancient, inherited sensation that rarely left her—a traumatic retention.

She would soothe that sense of impending disaster in a variety of ways. When she was in the kitchen, she would hum—not a steady tone, but entire melodies. Her humming was never soft and intimate, but loud and firm, as if she were humming for an audience. As a small child, if I knew the song she was humming, sometimes I would hum along with her, and my body would experience safety and settledness.

This humming practice is intended to soothe the nervous system and bring about calm, presence, and greater awareness in our bodies, as it did for Menakem and his grandmother. He instructs:

Find a quiet, private, comfortable place. Sit down. Put one hand on your knee or in your lap. Place the other on your belly.

Now hum. Not from your throat or chest, but from the bottom of your belly.

Hum strong and steady. Push the air out of your belly firmly, not gently.

Stop to breathe in, but return to the hum with each new breath.

Experience the hum in your belly. Then sense it in the rest of your body.

Continue humming for two minutes.

When you’re done, reach your arms upward. Then, slowly and gently, feel your body with your hands, starting from the top of your head. Move slowly down your neck and along your chest, then below your waist, then past your knees, until your arms are fully extended downward. What do you notice?

Experience a version of this practice with video and sound.

Reference:
Resmaa Menakam, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (Central Recovery Press: 2017), 137, 35.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops On Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Even in and around our sharpest edges the water of life gathers. Soothing, nourishing, healing.
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Trauma and Healing

Gazing on the Crucified Jesus
Friday, May 7, 2021

Those who “gaze upon” the crucified Jesus (John 19:37) long enough—with contemplative eyes—are always healed at deep levels of pain, unforgiveness, aggression, and victimhood. It demands no theological education at all, just an “inner exchange” by receiving the image within and offering one’s soul back in safe return.

“The crucified Jesus is no stranger” to any part of human history, as Dom Sebastian Moore so wisely put it. [1] The Crucified One offers, at a largely unconscious level, a very compassionate meaning system for history. The mystery of the rejection, suffering, passion, death, and raising up of Jesus is the interpretative key for what history means and where it is all going. Without such cosmic meaning and soul significance, the agonies and tragedies of humanity feel like Shakespeare’s “sound and fury signifying nothing.” The body can live without food easier than the soul can live without such meaning.

Theologian Serene Jones has reflected deeply on trauma and the cross. It is an event that both repels us and draws us near. We don’t fully understand it, but there’s a redeeming reason we are drawn to the image again and again:

The meaning [of the cross] that counts most on a day-to-day basis is the one nestled deep within the beholder’s heart—and hearts are too unwieldy and often unpredictable sites of meaning-making. The cross makes sense in ways that do not make sense. Imprinted on our conscious minds, it animates our unconscious compulsions and drives in ways that escape us. We live within the story but are not always sure quite how. We both know it and don’t know it. . . . Grace is grace. It comes. [2]

If all these human crucifixions are leading to some possible resurrection, and are not dead-end tragedies, this changes everything. If God is somehow participating in human suffering, instead of just passively tolerating it and observing it, that also changes everything—at least for those who are willing to “gaze” contemplatively.

This deep gazing upon the mystery of divine and human suffering is found in the prophet Zechariah in a very telling text that became a prophecy for the transformative power of the victims of history. He calls Israel to “Look upon the pierced one and to mourn over him as for an only son,” and “weep for him as for a firstborn child,” and then “from that mourning” (five times repeated) will flow “a spirit of kindness and prayer” (12:10) and “a fountain of water” (13:1, 14:8).

Today this is perhaps what we would call “grief work,” holding the mystery of pain and looking right at it and learning deeply from it, which normally leads to an uncanny and newfound compassion and understanding.

I believe we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified to soften our hearts toward God, and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us, even and most especially in our own suffering. This softens us toward ourselves and all others who suffer too—in one great wave of universal mercy.

References:
[1] Sebastian Moore, The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger (Seabury Press: 1977).

[2] Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World, 2nd ed. (Westminster John Knox: 2019), 73.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 186, 192.

Story from Our Community:
As a prison chaplain, I encouraged people to transform their pain, often caused by trauma in their early years. However, most did not have safety and support for transformation. Now, for the first time in my life, I am experiencing profound and chronic pain. I am not doing a lot of transforming. I am numbing, through ice packs and medication, to ensure that I make it to the transformative work of my surgery. To push my metaphor, I am resisting any impulse to do the surgery on myself. Richard’s words encourage me in my new journey with physical pain. —Glenn M.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops On Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Even in and around our sharpest edges the water of life gathers. Soothing, nourishing, healing.
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Trauma and Healing

Trauma and Silence
Thursday, May 6, 2021

Today I share a contemplative poem from CAC friend and writer Felicia Murrell. Felicia’s words combine a deep awareness of God’s presence while clearly naming the collective trauma of police brutality and lynchings. It is worth remembering, as Black liberation theologian James Cone (1938–2018) points out, that the lynchings of African Americans and the crucifixion of Jesus share much in common: “Both the cross and the lynching tree were symbols of terror, instruments of torture and execution, reserved primarily for slaves, criminals, and insurrectionists—the lowest of the low in society.” [1] There is something about poetry that gives us permission to sit with the paradoxes of our pain, perhaps especially when addressing traumatic suffering. I invite you to read Felicia’s challenging words slowly, allowing your heart to break open to God’s love amidst the suffering of the world.

Silence

If you’re silent,
you can hear the forest breathe,
the holy hush of the tree’s limb.

“Silence,” said Thomas Merton, “is God’s first language”:
the way it soaks into your skin,
surrounds you,
blanketing you like the forest’s breath.

Silence:
The cadence of the land at rest,
the body asleep,
the heart awake.

Silence:
The deep rhythmic breathing of a mind slowed down,
an ocean still,
wet dew clinging to grass blade.

Silence:
The sacred song trapped in a bird’s breast before its first
chirp,
the still of night across a desert landscape
wrapped in a bone-aching chill
before the sun rises to scorch its parched earth.

Silence:
The lusty gaze of onlookers staring at the negro on the
lynching tree,
neck snapped,
life ended,
feet dangling,
back and forth,
back and forth.

Silenced:
Hands up, don’t shoot!
Body thrumming with a heady sense of power.
Hands in pocket,
resting pose, knees embedded into a man’s neck.

Silence, please.
I. Can’t. Breathe.

Silenced.

References:
[1] James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis Books: 2011), 31.

Felicia Murrell, “Silence,” “Trauma,” Oneing, vol. 9, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2021), 19–20.

Story from Our Community:
As a prison chaplain, I encouraged people to transform their pain, often caused by trauma in their early years. However, most did not have safety and support for transformation. Now, for the first time in my life, I am experiencing profound and chronic pain. I am not doing a lot of transforming. I am numbing, through ice packs and medication, to ensure that I make it to the transformative work of my surgery. To push my metaphor, I am resisting any impulse to do the surgery on myself. Richard’s words encourage me in my new journey with physical pain. —Glenn M.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops On Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Even in and around our sharpest edges the water of life gathers. Soothing, nourishing, healing.
Read Full Entry

Trauma and Healing

The Soul Wound
Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Attorney and activist Sherri Mitchell from the Penobscot Nation writes about the collective trauma and “soul wound” [1] that Native Americans have suffered:

My group, Native Americans, have suffered an unrecognized holocaust in this country. The brutal genocide of Native peoples is hard to acknowledge for many, especially for those who have inherited some value from the loss and destruction that occurred here. How do you acknowledge the injustice of genocide, disruption of culture, and the destruction of a way of life when you’re living on the lands of those who have been victimized? It is hard for people to accept that horror and continue to live with the outcome, so they choose to ignore it or minimize the story. The simple truth is that this country was founded on genocide and slavery. . . .

When we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain—the deep, agonizing soul pain that results from historical trauma—we aren’t able to recognize that we are all carrying some measure of that pain within us. Instead, we allow it to isolate us and keep us cut off from one another. We also fail to recognize that the cause of that pain is not only a violation against us, it is a violation against life itself, and its mournful cries echo through our DNA, and become lodged in our genetic memory. [2]

The collective and intergenerational trauma that Sherri Mitchell describes manifests in individual bodies and requires healing on multiple levels. Kaitlin Curtice, a dear personal friend and member of the Potawatomi Nation, shares:

I am someone who journeys with trauma.

The next step after naming my trauma—the trauma of assimilation, the trauma of being an Indigenous woman who grew up in the Baptist church, the trauma of a broken family, the trauma of struggling with anxiety, and more—was to learn how to live with the reality of those traumas, because once we name something out loud, it becomes true in a way it wasn’t before. My journey with trauma includes learning to love myself in a more embodied way, continuing therapy, and actually stepping out of toxic church spaces and institutions into a fuller journey with the Christian faith that accepts me as I am.

Learning to love myself—my child self, my adult self, my scared self, the courageous self that I keep tucked away a lot of the time—has been the hardest part of my journey with trauma. When we learn to stop blaming our child selves for their trauma, fear, and behaviors, we learn to understand who we are as adults, and we get the chance to become embodied again.

References:
[1] Trained in a Western clinical model, Eduardo Duran is an esteemed psychologist who has worked with Native American communities for over two decades. Native elders taught him about intergenerational trauma through the language of “spiritual injury, soul sickness, soul wounding, and ancestral hurt.” See Eduardo Duran, Healing the Soul Wound: Trauma-Informed Counseling for Indigenous Communities, 2nd ed. (Teachers College Press: 2019), 17.

[2] Sherri Mitchell, Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change (North Atlantic Books: 2018), 57, 66–67.

[3] Kaitlin Curtice, “Trauma as a Journeying Partner,” “Trauma,” Oneing, vol. 9, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2021), 61–62.

Story from Our Community:
The books of Richard Rohr and James Finley have been instrumental in my spiritual journey. Through their works, I am able to survive and thrive after trauma and discover the healing blessings of peace and divine love, leading me to a contemplative way of being. I am forever grateful for their contribution to creating sparks and fires of divinity in our hearts. —Adela N.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops On Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Even in and around our sharpest edges the water of life gathers. Soothing, nourishing, healing.
Read Full Entry

Trauma and Healing

Our All-Vulnerable God
Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Very few of us can actually imagine God suffering. I bet almost half the prayers of the Catholic Church begin with “Almighty God” and when you’re “all mighty,” you don’t suffer! And yet if we believe that Jesus reveals the hidden heart of God, we know that God suffers, too. Jesus is continually drawn to the suffering ones and suffers with them. Our English word “pity” doesn’t do justice to the Hebrew concept of the bowel-shaking empathy Jesus felt for the wounded people who came to him. Clinical psychologist and Episcopal priest Rev. Dr. Sally Howard writes about how God meets us in our trauma:

It is a time to discover new stories about our God, who could not bear to stand apart from our suffering and joined us to live as we might live. . . .

Our God, who poured Herself into the creation of all that exists, is subject to risk, to being fractured and torn, just as we are. . . . The knowledge and experience of God’s solidarity and union with us is profoundly healing and can alter the sequela of trauma so as not to become repetitive and recurrent. God desires closeness to all our experience, naked and raw, in its particularity and commonality. . . .

By providing the safe dwelling place, God defeats the horror in our lives. God catches up our trauma and weaves any horror-filled participation into an unending relationship of beatific intimacy. When we recognize God in our own narrative, there is no wound so deep that God cannot heal. [1]

Also in the latest edition of Oneing, CAC faculty member and dear friend James Finley recounts an experience from his doctoral training, during which he served as an intern on an inpatient alcohol treatment unit for veterans. Upon witnessing a new arrival at the unit accept the challenging truth of his addicted situation, Jim saw in the vulnerable alcoholic an insight about God’s presence, protection, and peace.

In the moment he stood there with tears in his eyes, he was vulnerable and, in his vulnerability, true invincibility was being manifested in the world. Thomas Merton (1915–1968) taught there is that in us that is not subject to the brutalities of our own will. No matter how badly we may have trashed ourselves in patterns of self-destructive behavior, this innermost hidden center of ourselves remains invincibly whole and undiminished because it is that in us that belongs entirely to God.

No matter what anyone has done to us in the past, or is doing to us now, or might do to us in the future, this innermost, hidden center of ourselves remains invincibly established in God as a mysterious Presence, as a life that is at once God’s and our own. It is in being awakened to this innermost center of ourselves with God that we find the courage to continue on in the challenging process of healing, grounded in a peace that is not dependent on the outcome of our efforts because it is the peace of God, which depends on nothing and on which everything depends. [2]

References:
[1] Sally A. Howard, “Secure Dwelling and Positive Meaning in the Face of Trauma,” “Trauma,” Oneing, vol. 9, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2021), 25–26, 27.

[2] James Finley, “The Spiritual Dimensions of Healing during Traumatizing Times,” “Trauma,” Oneing, vol. 9, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2021), 94.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “God Is All Vulnerable More Than All Mighty,” homily, June 5, 2016.

Story from Our Community:
The books of Richard Rohr and James Finley have been instrumental in my spiritual journey. Through their works, I am able to survive and thrive after trauma and discover the healing blessings of peace and divine love, leading me to a contemplative way of being. I am forever grateful for their contribution to creating sparks and fires of divinity in our hearts. —Adela N.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops On Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Even in and around our sharpest edges the water of life gathers. Soothing, nourishing, healing.
Read Full Entry

Trauma and Healing

Healing Takes Place Here
Monday, May 3, 2021

Claude AnShin Thomas suffered for years from the trauma of war as a Vietnam combat veteran. A retreat with Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh set him on the path of mindfulness and healing. He is now a Zen Buddhist monk. He recounts his story:

I suffer from a disturbed sleep pattern that has been a part of my life since a nighttime attack in Vietnam in 1967. Since that time, I haven’t slept for more than two consecutive hours in any one night. . . . My sleeplessness became the central symbol of my not-all-rightness, of my deepest fears that I would never be all right. . . .

Part of the reason I had difficulty sleeping was because of my night terrors: the sounds of artillery (that isn’t there) firing in the distance, of helicopters on assault, that special look of everything illuminated by artificial light, the sounds of small arms fire, of the wounded screaming for a medic. For me, this is what rises up out of the silence that is special to night. I hated the sun going down. I fought and struggled with my inability to sleep, and the more I fought, the more difficult the nights became. So I turned to alcohol and drugs (legal and illegal) for relief, but my suffering just got worse. . . .

Some years after getting sober, I was standing at the kitchen sink in my cottage in Concord, washing dishes. Above the sink was a window through which I could see a row of fifty-foot-tall pine trees that lined the driveway. That day as I did the dishes, I was watching a squirrel busy doing whatever it is that squirrels do, when I had a powerful experience. A voice inside me, the voice of awareness, said to me, “You can’t sleep, so now what?” I began to laugh. It was a moment of complete acceptance. I finally understood that I just was how I was. To resist, to fight, to attempt to alter the essential nature of my life, was in fact making matters worse, and now I understood that I simply needed to learn how to live with the reality of who I was. In this moment I discovered that it was here, in the midst of suffering and confusion, that healing and transformation can take place, if I can stop trying to escape.

But I’m not special, you know. You can do this, too. You can face your own sorrow, your own wounds. You can stop wanting some other life, some other past, some other reality. You can stop fighting against the truth of yourself and, breathing in and breathing out, open to your own experience. You can just feel whatever is there, exploring it, until you also discover the liberation that comes with stopping the struggle and becoming fully present in your own life. This is the real path to peace and freedom. You could do this for yourself; you could do this for your family. Our whole world will benefit.

Reference:
Claude AnShin Thomas, At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace (Shambhala: 2004), 152–153, 154.

Story from Our Community:
Since a life-threatening accident two years ago, much of my “transformation” was in light of this trauma. For so long I couldn’t take care of myself and had to come face to face with WHO AM I when I can DO NOTHING. I am grateful to breathe, to live each day, to find the life and beauty in everything. I savor my days. The daily CAC meditations and online classes have both nurtured and challenged me. —Beth M.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops On Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Even in and around our sharpest edges the water of life gathers. Soothing, nourishing, healing.
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Trauma and Healing

What Do We Do with This Pain?
Sunday, May 2, 2021

We have heard the word trauma a lot in the last thirty years or more. I am not sure if it is happening more, or if we finally have a word to describe what has probably always been happening.

When we examine history, we know that there has scarcely been a time period, community, or country which did not regularly experience war, famine, torture, families separated by death or distance, relentless injustice against which people felt powerless, domestic violence, sexual abuse, imprisonment, natural disasters, disease, even wholesale enslavement, persecution, and genocide. All of these are emotionally traumatic for the human psyche; such memories are held in the body itself—so much so that, in many cases, the mind cannot remember the trauma until years later.

Reflecting on trauma has made me think that much of the human race must have suffered from what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is heartbreaking to imagine, but it gives me much more sympathy for the human person caught in repeated cycles of historical violence.

Could this be what mythology means by “the sacred wound” and the church describes as “original sin,” which was not something we did, but the effects of something that was done to us? I believe it is.

If religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, humanity is in major trouble. All healthy religion shows us what to do with our pain. Great religion shows us what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the traumatic, the nonsensical, the unjust. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

It’s no surprise that the Christian logo became a naked, bleeding, suffering man. What do we do with this pain, this sadness, this disappointment, this absurdity? At the end of life, and probably at the beginning of life, too, that is the question. When I led men in rites of passage, this was the biggest question for the largest percentage of those in the middle of life: what do we do with what has already happened to us? How do we keep from the need to blame, to punish, to accuse, to sit on Job’s eternal dung heap and pick at our sores (Job 2:8)? It seems to me that too high a percentage of humanity ends up there.

It is no wonder that Jesus teaches so much about forgiveness, and shares so much healing touch and talk. He does not resort to the usual moral categories, punishment practices, the frequent blame, or the simplistic sin language of most early-stage religious people. That is why he is such a huge spiritual master. Christians almost avoided seeing this by too glibly calling him “God.” He offers everything to us for our own transformation—everything! Not to change others but to change ourselves. Jesus never “cancels” other people or groups.

As I wrote in the most recent edition of our biannual literary journal Oneing, this much is all I am equipped to say. This week, let my friends now take it further.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Trauma,” Oneing, vol. 9, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2021), 17–18;

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 25; and

The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
Since a life-threatening accident two years ago, much of my “transformation” was in light of this trauma. For so long I couldn’t take care of myself and had to come face to face with WHO AM I when I can DO NOTHING. I am grateful to breathe, to live each day, to find the life and beauty in everything. I savor my days. The daily CAC meditations and online classes have both nurtured and challenged me. —Beth M.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops On Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Even in and around our sharpest edges the water of life gathers. Soothing, nourishing, healing.
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