I recently heard Serene Jones talk about her recent book “Trauma and Grace.” Jones spoke about how trauma affects our leadership and our liturgy. She explained how our worship can provide a space for people to express rage and experience grace.
The voices of the Psalms are filled with trauma. Echoing John Calvin, Jones pointed out that the Psalms provide an “anatomy of the soul.”
I was there with a large group of ministers and other church leaders. Jones asked us to break up into small groups and tell each other a story about how trauma affected our ministries.
One by one, people began to open up and tell their stories. But they often began with wary preludes, like, “Well, you know, I’m in a wealthy church. We’re a very comfortable congregation. To talk about trauma in our context seems kind of silly.”
I nodded along with the rest of the group, thinking about my own congregation. It is strange to talk about trauma in Foggy Bottom. I serve a church in the same neighborhood as the Watergate Apartments and the Kennedy Center -- the home of some of the richest and most powerful people in the nation and the world.
Yet, we know that in all of our churches, children are being abused, husbands cling to their addictions to prescription drugs, wives cheat on their spouses. We all walk with people who suffer from severe depression, and we pray with their families that they will hold on another day. We realize that some people have identities that are so wrapped up in their careers that they no longer know who they are when they become downsized. We counsel college students who have been raped and young professionals who have lost their homes.
We understand that money cannot buy happiness. So why would we think that it could buy a pass from trauma?
Of course, as our group spoke, we were thinking of those who were in Haiti, trying to dig their loved ones out of the rubble. In our heartache and devastation for the Haitian people, I think we felt guilty talking about our own emotional shock.
But the pain in our own lives does not disappear, even when others experience deeper suffering. We may not be living in the devastation of Port-au-Prince. We may not be battling in a war zone. But I wonder if we do a disservice to our congregations and to ourselves when we assume that because a daughter has shiny shoes and horseback riding lessons that she has no reason for emotional distress. It may be wrong to assume that a person of comfort and means cannot be a victim of domestic violence. We may not be able to see the son who is suffering from living with an alcoholic parent. We might miss the fact that our member may not be starving from a national food shortage, but she is starving herself, and we need to find out why.
In this time of overwhelming global trauma, we can hardly bear to imagine the hardship through which so many people sort. We think of all the children who have lost their parents, and mothers who can no longer hold their babies.
Even so, we need to be attentive those who suffer around us -- even with their beautiful suburban homes, two-car garages, and expensive vacations. Tragedy befalls us all. And in our care and our worship, we can provide a space for the outpouring of God’s grace.