Trauma and Grace
eBook - ePub

Trauma and Grace

Theology in a Ruptured World

Serene Jones

Share book
  1. English
  2. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  3. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Trauma and Grace

Theology in a Ruptured World

Serene Jones

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents
Citations

About This Book

This substantive collection of essays by Serene Jones explores recent works in the field of trauma studies. Central to its overall theme is an investigation of the myriad ways both individual and collective violence affect one's capacity to remember, to act, and to love; how violence can challenge theological understandings of grace; and even how the traumatic experience of Jesus' death is remembered. Of particular interest is Jones's focus on the long-term effects of collective violence on abuse survivors, war veterans, and marginalized populations, and the discrete ways in which grace and redemption might be exhibited in each context. At the heart of each essay are two deeply interrelated faith-claims that are central to Jones's understanding of Christian theology: first, we live in a world profoundly broken by violence; second, God loves this world and desires that suffering be met by words of hope, of love, and of grace. This truly cutting-edge book is the first trauma study to directly take into account theological issues.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Trauma and Grace an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Trauma and Grace by Serene Jones in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Théologie et religion & Théologie chrétienne. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.

Information

PART 1
Traumatic Faith
Understanding the effects of violence upon the workings of our imagination—and upon the bodies and souls of persons who have been traumatized—is the central task of this opening section. Too often we believe that when physical healing occurs, mental healing naturally follows, and that with time, all wounds heal. Such is not always the case, however. Violence often cuts so deeply into our minds that surface healings cover it over and, hidden away, allow it to expand. The balmlike work of theology and of religion is to uncover and mend such wounds. And what medicine does this? Healing lies as much, if not more, in the stories we tell and the gestures we offer as in the doctrines we preach.
1
Trauma and Grace—Beginnings
BROKEN COMMUNION: LEAH’S STORY
Late to church as usual, I took a seat in the back pew. Leah, who had started attending services only six months ago, soon joined me. Quiet and intense, she had recently asked if I would be her official church-appointed sponsor because in several weeks she planned to join the congregation. As we discussed her life, her faith, and her decision to become a church member, a friendship had taken root.
When she sat down in the pew next to me, I smiled at her and we let ourselves be drawn into the familiar rhythms of worship. We stood and sang of God’s glory; we sat and prayed for the world and ourselves; we listened to Scripture and then the sermon; we gave up our offerings and then rose to sing again. It was an ordinary Sunday morning: two friends, a familiar liturgy, and the calming power of prayer, silence, and song illuminated by the slant of midwinter light filtering through the sanctuary windows high above us.
After the offering, our pastor moved to the communion table. Since childhood, this part of the service has been my favorite; I like the image of Jesus gathering folks for supper and offering the mystery of God’s grace to us in bread and wine. But as the pastor began talking about the night “before Jesus’ death,” Leah’s body grew rigid. Her nail-bitten fingers began to twist the folded order of worship paper in her lap, her face assumed a frighteningly blank look, her fear was cold and palpable. When the pastor then invoked the words of Jesus, “This is my blood, poured out for you,” she slid out of the pew and left the sanctuary. As I turned to see the back doors close softly behind her, I heard the pastor intone, “And this is my body, broken for you.”
I followed her into the back hall and found her just inside the open door of the bathroom, where she stood shivering and staring at the sink. I stepped inside and asked her if she was all right. She looked over at me and haltingly said that she needed to put a little water on her face, … but she couldn’t remember which faucet was hot and which was cold. It was such a simple thing—how could she not know? Before I answered, I tried to imagine what she might be thinking and why she was so afraid. For a moment, I felt the tightening grip of the terror that held her, and I seemed to be standing beside her—not in church, but in a chilling, static, confused world. We seemed far removed from the grace spoken about at the communion table and far from the warmth of the church that, literally, still held us deep inside itself.
After a few seconds, I turned on the hot water faucet for her. When the warm water finally came through the pipes, Leah put her wrists under it and slowly relaxed. We stepped back into the hall as the service ended. Leah found her coat, said good-bye, and moved outside into the late Sunday morning light as I stood there, now speechless myself, unnerved and guiltily uncertain about what had just happened or what I should have done.
images
My anxious uncertainty was not just personal; it was also theological. I was her mentor, and the fact that the communion service had sent her running from worship troubled me to no end. How was it that the very thing she was reaching for was the thing that so terrified her? I knew from her talks with me about her faith that coming to know grace—God’s unmerited love for her—was central to Leah’s growing sense of spiritual connection with the church. Just the week before, we had talked long into the evening about grace and God’s desire that she flourish and know the fruits of life abundant, a concept that was new to her but one to which she was rapidly warming. This week, however, a story-ritual about Jesus’ love for her, grace incarnate, had thrown her into a cold, frightening place where violence seemed to stalk her. How could this be? How might the church not harm her in the very same moment it is trying to convey to her the treasure of a love unending?
The next time Leah and I met for afternoon tea, as was our custom, she shared with me the story of her childhood, a tale that threw light on why she had fled but not necessarily on the theological challenge of supporting her spiritual formation. As she told it, her parents had been hippie types in the early 1970s; until she was five, they had lived in a tent and traveled around the country with a caravan of folks, doing drugs and picking up short-term work here and there. During that period she remembered “lots of weird sex stuff and lots of stoned people frightening me as they stumbled around at night.” When her family finally settled down, her father began sexually abusing her on a regular basis. “We were a liberated family,” she sarcastically informed me. Her parents split up when she was in junior high; by the time she reached high school, she was doing drugs herself, trying to be cool. She was raped during her senior year, by a supposed friend; they had been drunk, and she never told anyone. By the time she started junior college, she was “too depressed to do much.” With the help of a teacher, she had ended up at a community center, joining a group for young women. It was here, she explained, that she first heard a social worker use the word “trauma.” She had gradually come to see that “trauma” fit the way she felt most of the time, that her whole self—her body and her soul—still held within it the shock waves of the violence she had known for so many years.
Since that time, she had been in and out of various treatment programs for people who suffer from what is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in which they remain haunted by the ongoing effects of violence in their lives long after the events themselves have passed. Sometimes she felt she was getting better; at other times, she despaired about the future, including times like that Sunday when, out of the blue, she was suddenly thrown back into an old state of terror and confusion, which she could not stop or control. Afterward she had gone home and made razor-blade scratches on her arm, a ritual action that, she admitted with embarrassment, restored order to her world.
She took a sip of tea and said softly, “I’m sorry about church. I didn’t mean to act so weird. I hate feeling so out of control.” I assured her that there was no need to apologize and that I was sorry about the violence she had experienced: “It must have been horrible.” My words sounded insignificant in the face of what she had revealed, but I didn’t know what else to say. Once again, I was the one who felt frozen. She, however, looked relieved and rested her arms on the table as she continued her tale.
“I started coming to church when I moved into the city last year because I was lonely and—this may sound strange—but I really wanted to be in a place where I could do things like sing and pray with other people. And be with God.” Growing up, her family had not been particularly religious, except for the few times when her mother, in brief fits of spiritual fervor, had taken her to a nearby church. She remembered how much she liked the hymns and hearing people lift up prayers to God. She told me that now she sometimes awakened in the morning with one of those songs rolling gently through her mind, its rhythm comforting her. Sometimes, too, out of nowhere, she found herself intoning small prayers that came from a deep place within her.
She then looked back into her teacup on the table and tried to explain what had happened the previous week:
It happens to me, sometimes. I’m listening to the pastor, thinking about God and love, when suddenly I hear or see something, and it’s as if a button gets pushed inside of me. In an instant, I’m terrified; I feel like I’m going to die or get hurt very badly. My body tells me to run away, but instead, I just freeze. Last week it was the part about Jesus’ blood and body. There was a flash in my head, and I couldn’t tell the difference between Jesus and me, and then I saw blood everywhere, and broken body parts, and I got so afraid I just disappeared. I thought the bathroom might be safe, but even it scared and confused me. I forgot my name. I forgot the hot and cold.
She fell silent and started chewing on the side of her thumbnail. I tried to find words to reassure her, but she demurred: “I appreciate you listening, but … I know it’s my problem, and I’m working on it.”
“No,” I responded quickly, words pouring out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying. “It’s not just your problem. It’s our problem—my problem, the church’s problem, God’s problem. You don’t need to be alone, and I hope we can work on it together. That’s what faith communities do.”
She eyed me with slight suspicion, for only a brief moment. The corner of her mouth tried a smile. Then she looked away and turned back to me with a new conversation topic.
images
During the next few days, I found myself looking at people differently. As I gazed out into the classroom during my lecture, I wondered how many students had felt the traumatic reactions Leah described and how I might use the words of my teaching in a way that could better reach them. Over dinner with friends, I took a sip of wine and suddenly remembered Leah’s story of rape. How many young women would be caught in a similar place tonight? I thought about Leah living in a tent: did she eat regular meals? These thoughts disturbed me and even reminded me of times in my own life. I was beginning to realize that Leah’s terror had touched places in my own past that, while unlike hers in form, were hauntingly similar in feel. Trauma. In my mind, I began to see it everywhere.
I considered the promise I made to her about not going through it alone as she “worked on it.” God, the church, and I could be with her. The more I thought about my urgently issued assurance, however, the less certain I was as to what I had meant by it. How could the church’s profession of grace reach Leah in the cold space of her distress?
These questions came into particularly sharp focus for me at a meeting with a dozen church deacons convened to discuss fund-raising for the urgently needed renovation of a local soup kitchen. The conversation was lively, but instead of engaging in it, I listened and watched. Looking around the meeting room, I saw twelve familiar, concerned faces. Our church had a long history of engaging in social issues: homelessness, illiteracy, racism, hate crimes, hunger, AIDS, domestic violence. We were experts at setting up committees to investigate community problems and formulate effective plans of action. We didn’t like walls that separated people from each other or walls that separated the church from the world around it. But what of the walls constructed inside the self and between Leah’s terror and our songs of grace and mercy?
I was certain that if this group knew about Leah’s experience, their faces would immediately be filled with earnest concern. But I feared that our response to it might be to form a social action committee. I was confident that such a committee could begin to address, as we already had, many of the social conditions that led to Leah’s terror. But I wondered, Could a trauma committee do the work that would help Leah heal? I suspected not. Perhaps we needed to obtain therapy for her. But she clearly had had that and had chosen a church for other reasons. How could liturgy, community, and faith work together best to encourage healing in broken places?
The meeting came to a close; we decided to make renovating the kitchen a top priority. A good decision, I thought. But I walked away filled with worries about Leah and the church. Worries about walls and about the absence of answers to my still unspoken questions about trauma and grace.
images
The next week I arrived at church, late again, and was happy to see Leah already sitting in our usual pew. This morning, however, the routine felt different. Sitting next to Leah, I waited for even the smallest sign that something might be going wrong. I tried to imagine what the songs, prayers, silences, Scripture readings, and sermon might sound like to Leah. I tried to recall what I knew of traumas in my own life, what it felt like in my body to be terrified and confused. In a new way I was also aware of the people sitting in front of and behind me and what they might be thinking. Scattered around us were veterans, one from World War II, one from Vietnam, and another from Desert Storm. There was a mother whose son had died from driving drunk last spring, a fourteen-year-old girl who had witnessed a drive-by shooting and had testified about it in court, and a father who had emigrated recently from Rwanda, a place about which he seldom spoke. And there were others, I’m sure, who had suffered violent losses, some of whom had never spoken of them to anyone. “How did the Lord’s Prayer sound to each of them?” I asked myself. “Did our collective words of thanksgiving to God make sense in the face of so much pain and loss?”
The whole world of worship as I had known it in the past began to shift and change before my eyes: there, in Center Church on the Green in New Haven, I came as close as a Congregationalist comes to having a mystical experience. The vision was powerful. A new world appeared before me. In it, we were still in the sanctuary, but Leah’s cold, ice-white tiled bathroom had expanded to hold a whole congregation of shivering souls. It was a world in which I could not rely on normal assumptions about human perceptions and actions. Here memories were blurry. Commonly held notions of order, like the order of the hot and cold faucets, seemed unstable, elusive. Scenes of violence erupted without pattern, overwhelming both thought and sound. Bodies were frozen in fear, and a sense of utter helplessness filled the air. Mouths were gaping open in screams, but no sounds came out, no language worked. And cold blankness constantly threatened to descend.
What was most strange about this scene was that its chaos was unfolding not off in a corner bathroom but in the midst of worship itself. The belly-body of the sanctuary held all of it within its viscera; the liturgy moved in and through its midst, circulating through its aisles and around the many lives it held. At times, the words spoken, sung, or prayed struck violently against the fragile, traumatized people that gathered there, deepening the terror. I knew at once that such words and actions were not harbingers of grace but the spawn of the church’s own brokenness and history of violence. I wanted to reach over and shield Leah from their assaultive force, to shelter her, others, myself.
At other times, however, our faith-born words and ritual motions seemed truly grace-filled as they circled around and through this frozen, terrified lot—powerful, merciful, and transforming. In an old hymn was a gentle plea for vision where only shadows haunted—a familiar song that sounded like the words of someone who had known a terror like Leah’s. In the Gospel lesson, I heard anew the story of confused disciples who kept missing Jesus’ message, disciples with whom he nonetheless kept traveling, warming them, feeding them, starting over again and again with his folksy version of the gospel tale. In all these ways, I heard and saw with increasing clarity that trauma was not something outside of faith, something foreign and distant that the Christian message of grace had to struggle to address. I saw instead that parts of our rich faith traditions were born in the midst of unspeakable terrors and that grace had long been unfurling its warmth and succor therein.
The Gospel of Mark calls it “repentance”—that moment when one is turned around and sees differently. The apostle Paul speaks of it as conversion, transformation, and describes for us the new reality that opens up when one comes to know Christ and see him crucified. Augustine of Hippo speaks of the baptism of blood, that turbulent transformation in which one descends into death, perhaps into terror and cold blankness, and emerges in Christ. John Calvin calls it “mortification and vivification,” a conversion in which one descends into hell to find life.
That morning, sitting next to Leah, I underwent such a baptism, a converted way of seeing. I had come to see that when one becomes aware of the extensive wounds that events of overwhelming violence can inflict on the souls, bodies, and psyches of people, one’s understanding of what human beings are and what they can do changes. Dramatically. Such an experience shifts how one thinks about language and silence, how one understands the workings of memory, how one assesses the instability of reason and the fragility of our capacity to will and to act, how one grapples with the fragmentation of perception and the quick disintegration of order, and how one conceives of imagination, recognizing that at any moment haunting, shadowy scenes of violence can disrupt it, twist it, and shut it down.
The vision I had in church that morning is crucial to moving forward. If the church’s message about God’s love for the world is to be offered to those who suffer these wounds, then we must think anew about how we use language and how we put bodies in motion and employ imagery and sound. With fresh openness we must grapple with the meaning of beliefs not only about grace, but also about such matters as sin, redemption, hope, community, communion, violence, death, crucifixion, and resurrection.
The reality of violence haunts u...

Table of contents