Grace in the midst of trauma

THROUGH the course of our life we will all receive diversions, knocks and bumps that have an impact on us but which we are also well able to integrate. Our own decisions and actions, or the decisions and actions of others, change our life course – often positively but sometimes negatively. We have a well-developed capacity to make sense of these major and minor events.

Along the way some people encounter things that have a different character. In a single event or over time they experience events that overwhelm their capacity to respond effectively. Without really knowing it, they establish ways of responding and being that enable their life course. Sometimes these responses are as critical as being strategies to survive.

Over the last decade or so, the medical and psychological understandings of individual and collective trauma have developed remarkably. We are now more aware than ever of the remarkable capacity of the brain. We have greater insight into how memories, including traumatic memories are stored and processed. We also have greater insight into the capacity for the brain to engage those memories differently.

Any reading of the Easter narratives points to a tale of harrowing events. They are set in an environment of great hostility from authorities maintained by force. People feared for their lives. The Easter narratives focus on the overwhelming horror experienced by Jesus, but we also observe that those who had banded around him were racked with fear. The next knock on the door might be for them. Events are told in a way in which we both see considerable bravery but also people who are unable to be strong.

The Gospel of Luke gives us the story of two men leaving Jerusalem after Jesus’ torture and death. It is reasonable to see these two men as having experienced trauma. A man they have grown very close to and given themselves to has been degraded and killed. To be known as his associates was like placing a target on yourself. We learn in this story that in some way Jesus became very real to them. He was a companion for conversation on the road and a guest at a meal table. At the meal table, Jesus picks up a piece of bread and breaks it in a way that gives these two men abundant hope. They realise that they are not alone. Death, evil, humiliation, violence and the like are not the end. They change their life course and return to Jerusalem.

We see in this narrative an experience that is true for many trauma survivors. Spirituality becomes a great resource of hope and nurture provided it is based on love, acceptance, and safety. The two men in this story experienced grace from God and were nurtured by what we might call reflecting on the bible and receiving holy communion. When the church is at its very best, clergy and church workers recede into the background and God uses these means of grace to heal the soul.

The Anglican Church in this region knows that it has a history of not being at its best. Some clergy and church workers caused harm and intruded on the relationship between God and people. This knowledge has made people reluctant to approach the Church. They have sought God’s loving grace in other places. There is a very deep resolve among Anglicans to right its wrongs. We owe it to God and to the communities we serve.

The hope of Easter is the reality that God loves all that he has made. The promise of Easter is that God will reach to the roughest and toughest places of our lives with healing. My prayer is that all who experience trauma might flourish by the grace of the Living God.

The Rt Rev Dr Peter Stuart is the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Newcastle

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