What have we learned from talking about trauma, healing, and wholeness?


Well, this blog post is a bit late. Maybe, like healing, it happened when the time was right and not based on any schedule.

Anyway…

Adult Sunday School is sort of a strange critter at GMC. Downstairs, around the fake fireplace, lounging on an odd collection of couches and chairs, an even odder collection of people from their early 20s to their late 70s (and sometimes including the high schoolers) gather to learn and share about our faith, our activism, and our lives. Some weeks, we have outside speakers talking about immigration justice or prison sentencing reform; some weeks, we have informal conversations about the pressures and difficulties we face in our lives. Like us, it’s a whole strange mixture of things.

So this year, from Easter through Pentecost, we had a series of conversations about trauma, healing, and wholeness. Church folks and guests shared their thoughts on how their faith shaped their experience and understanding of these things (experiences? concepts? life events?). We heard from therapists, artists, nurses, survivors, and activists.

Trauma is simultaneously deeply felt, and hard to put your finger on. Many of us have experienced trauma – our lives, and the stories we tell about our lives, have been broken open. Some folks at GMC have experienced trauma relatively recently, or are still being traumatized, or have been re-traumatized by events in their lives or in the political scene. (People like Naomi Klein argue that our current political leaders use repeated “shocks” in order to pacify us.) We learned how being a survivor while supporting survivors in the Mennonite church means hearing stories that cut open the scars and make fresh wounds on the soul.

Many GMCers carry “secondary trauma,” deep pain we take into our bodies through caring for others and experiencing their trauma. This can be so hard to name, because it carries bonus layers of guilt. What right do I have to be broken open by this pain, given what I know others have experienced? We stories from church folk who feel this ache in their hearts while providing care to young children in neighborhoods that the city has abandoned.

And “healing” and “wholeness” are some of those strange concepts, ideals we’re told that we should achieve, yet many of us struggle to reach them. Any study of history shows us so many examples of people healing themselves on the backs of others, like white Mennonites fleeing persecution in Europe and settling on indigenous lands here on Turtle Island, helping to further the project of US and Canadian colonialism (that’s my family’s story). And the road to healing can feel so convoluted, twisted, and disorienting. We heard stories of people changing jobs and trying again and again to find balance between work and personal life on the road to healing.

It’s a mess. Yikes. So, rather than a systematic wrapping-up of the series, here are two images that I held as I sat and listened to powerful stories and brilliant suggestions and questions from GMCers over the past few months.

 

First, an olive tree.

GMC’s support for Palestinian liberation and peace in that land has given some of us a chance to experience the power and grace of a grove of ancient olive trees. (And a shout out to those who know this from other places, especially Greece. I see you.) These trees can grow to over 4,000 years old, and they grow slowly. This means that they carry their scars with them as they grow, twisting and bending around wounds that are centuries old. What we see is something beautiful, and deeply unique. In some places, like Gethsemane, ancient olive trees have died and new ones grow up inside the hollowed-out trunks, protected by the scarred skin of their parent. No doubt they grow differently because of the shape of their parent tree, but still they grow.

An olive tree in Gethsemane, courtesy of John Bergen. https://www.instagram.com/p/0-pPyRobr_/

 

Second, the church.

“Wholeness” is one of those ideas that can get twisted by individualism. We are “whole” when we are self-sufficient, independent, and on our own. But throughout our conversations, I kept thinking about how Paul describes church to the folks in Corinth – as a whole body. He says, sarcastically:

If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. [Corinthians 12: 15-22]

Paul doesn’t think that we are whole on our own. We’re not a community of isolated eyes (or hands, or large intestines). He has this vision of bodies that together make up a larger body. He believes that we we need each other, that our wholeness is found in each other, in interdependence. And he might even say that trauma and healing bring a lot to the community-building process. I can see Paul saying that we must keep being honest about where we’re at in order to heal, in order to be an honest Body of Christ.

These two images have stayed with me as Pentecost (the ascension of the Body of Christ, the call to broaden the Body, the call to offer healing to all broken bodies) has come and gone. Maybe they’ll speak to you, maybe they won’t. Maybe you have other images or stories that help you make sense of trauma, healing, and wholeness. Let’s keep sharing them with each other.

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