Spirit and Trauma (2 of 6)

In Rambo’s first chapter, she works to clarify her primary aim of seeing theological interpretive frameworks and examining Christian narratives about suffering. Suffering is a word commonly known by people in general and Christians in particular. Trauma is less accessible but everyone knows suffering.

Trauma can be a clinically described experience, something Rambo is aware of, but she turns toward the theological and the narratival in order to see what faith and story possess for the remaining required when trauma has destroyed and left barren the ways in which persons have understood the world, framed the world, and made sense of the world.

In the type of suffering known as trauma, Rambo says that all prior ways of interpreting the world and all previous ways of understanding the narratives and stories of Christianity fail. They shatter. Speaking of Christian narratives, she invites the reader to “meet these texts in their shattering” (p. 17), an invitation the chapter takes seriously after setting out the governing logic of Christian themes around the passion and resurrection and not that middle space between the death and resurrection. This is a way to remind readers of what is central to Christianity (life and death) and also what, perhaps, needs to be added to what is central (the experience of the traumatized).

Rambo lifts the violent nature of trauma’s residue and how the range of symptoms associated with suffering in trauma leaves us with a “complex and often indirect task” of trying to heal while losing the ability to “register the event and its effect through the use of language” (p. 21). The narrative is indispensable and she turns to Christian narratives and languages while offering a compelling explanation for the gaps between the present theological narratives as resources on the one hand and the grasp of persons experiencing and trying to locate, name, and identify their suffering on the other. This locating, naming, and identifying stand as a three-part interpretive grid and it may be an additional pull-out for chiefly practical purposes in doing the kind of theological artistry Rambo does.

The section on Herman’s contribution to trauma discourse as well the concept of witnessing grounds her distinct claim of witness as a transformed metaphor throughout Holocaust studies, literature, psychology, and theological studies. She orients us to central features of clinical trauma/suffering as experienced by individuals, gives a broad view of the cultural traumas of the Holocaust and Hurricane Katrina, and finds integration as the issue, especially those with clinical sensibilities. She writes, “If experiences of violence are not integrated in time, they can, in fact, be unearthed in another time and in another form” (p. 27). The social and political implications of this is worth mining.

While working with witnessing and theology, Rambo brings us to the conceptual territory of “unmasking, unearthing, and tracking what escapes interpretation” (p. 31), the beginnings of a critical analysis of the narratives/resources within her view. Drawing upon Caruth and Freud through Caruth, we begin to get Rambo’s outline of how trauma moves from an individual crisis to a murky individual crisis that doesn’t end, that doesn’t sit on one side of life or death, and that “cannot be read in any straightforward way if one is looking through the lens of trauma” (p. 33). If taking a lens of trauma has value for Rambo, that value is in making problematic the simple reading of 1) suffering happens (think of the cross), 2) suffering hurts (think of the death), and 3) suffering ends (think of the resurrection). Instead, Rambo listens to the cry at the intersection of death and life in order to challenge the stable and central identifications we make in Christianity which leave out an identification with those experiencing trauma. Does Jesus speak to the distorted bodies, distorted times, and the distorted words of those who suffer in this way?

Even reading slowly, Rambo paints a respectful conceptual picture of what’s been important to Christian narratives, one that isn’t deniable, the centrality and stability of the passion and resurrection. But the emerging pastoral question stands out of the stability and leans to the right and left of the centrality. This goes to Rambo’s use of witnessing from a middle place by which she intends 1) a posture that allows for seeing what is generally unseen and articulating what is usually unarticulated; and 2) entering into the omitted, the elided, which stays at the heart of suffering. This in her view leads to a reclaiming of suffering and a reclaiming of what it means for Christians to witness, inviting “testimonial power,” and a reworking of Christian vocabulary around redemption.

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