Spirit and Trauma (3 of 6)

The second chapter provides the primary theological materials of Rambo’s constructive work. Here she is concerned to witness the middle and to see what “persists between death and resurrection” (p. 48). Again, her overall project is to lift the unseen and unarticulated middle space. Rambo pulls two persons into her book in order to develop a constructive response to theological frameworks for unseen trauma, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne Speyr.

These two voices commingle, protesting the often split and individual views of how theology is done. Balthasar, the known theologian and priest, was often not regarded early on as a theologian in his Catholic setting, though he was as he aged. With a background in languages, his work is described as literary and poetic, but he was to be made cardinal the day his own death. Speyr was a physician and mystic who was certainly not (and often is not still) regarded as a theologian.

There are several reasons why I like Balthasar, among them his choice to be a chaplain for students and pass up a post at a respected university. I’m getting into Speyr with this reading and appreciating the complex ways she negotiated her life as a doctor and her decisions to experience losses and to build a community of devoted with her spiritual friend and guide. I will not replicate Rambo’s summary of their history and work and if you’re interested, consult her directly; the notes are excellent if you’re interested by such curious trails (p. 49-54).

Regarding the partnership between Speyr and Balthasar, most of what scholarship has is through the priest and theologian who did the writing. Balthasar viewed their work as psychologically inseparable, as a necessary partnership, and even established a publishing house so that Speyr’s work could be better preserved and promoted. Speyr, a medical doctor in other parts of her life, developed a symbiotic relationship with Balthasar who was her spiritual director.

The nurture of their bond provides the chapter an interesting, arresting, and beautiful description of how trauma, witnessing the middle, and experiencing holy Saturday can come with paradox, un-acknowledgment, tumult, intimacy, and insight. The parallels, or doubleness to use one word Rambo inserts, to the subject are fascinating to my psychological inclinations.

Balthasar’s work gives us elements of a theology of Holy Saturday adding a timelessness to that day and a focus on “the inner sphere of the hypostatic union” where that day is concerned. Now, that word–hypostatic–points to the inseparable nature of the Trinitarian persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a distinctly Christian conception of how to begin to understand the Divine. Balthasar is giving us in his work–and Rambo in hers by drawing upon Balthasar–indications of the inner experiences of the Godhead during the neglected day.

I think this is purposeful, needed, and welcomed and I also love how Balthasar does this by immediately and naturally co-orchestrating his theological conceptions with Adrienne Speyr, a view into another inner sphere that is worth respecting. I also cannot see this interpretive and methodological work without thinking about some of the ties to Womanist method. Note the content when you have to in Balthasar, but also appreciate the methodological beauty shaping here, a method that is mutual, insightful, cooperative, poetic, sentimental, deeply folded in richness, paradoxical. Do these words not describe the Divine?

This chapter is worth reading precisely because summarizing it diminishes and cheapens. That said, when Rambo comments on some of the great happenings in the chapter, she says, “Holy Saturday is a pivotal part of this divine love story. It narrates divine love at its least discernible point–between death and resurrection, in the recesses of hell” (p. 55). On that Saturday, a dead man descended into hell. There was no activity. There was no triumph. There was no preaching or saving. On Saturday, there was death. This can do back flips to a sermon, to a method of care, and to a theological discourse if taken seriously.

I’ve gone into detail so far about the relational nature of Rambo’s sources and tried to hint at the impact upon the theological work being done. The rest of the chapter is as important when turning toward how Rambo takes up what’s elided theologically, namely the pneumatological. It is the Spirit’s witness that she works to illuminate even as she shows how “the Christ-form” is the structure of Balthasar and Speyr’s approach to theologizing about Holy Saturday.

How does the Spirit bring to believing people the sheer suffering of a Son dead in hell? Can persons who did not experience that middle, timeless existence relate? How do we understand this “supreme solitude of Christ” as persons following at this distance? It is the assumed essence and role of the Spirit as the loving bond between the Father and Son that Rambo says allows Balthasar reconcile “the securing Spirit” and what “emerges from the wound of death” (p. 71). This is careful quality work to locate the Spirit (i.e., the pneumatological) in the pedestrian streets of those who suffered, not only Jesus on that Saturday but us.

As well, we have the stark theological reality as understood in the Christian stream (p. 74):

…there is  no way that death and life can be reconciled. The stark reality of the middle day is that we cannot conceive of life after death. On the one side, there is death in godforsakeness; on the other, there is eternal life. To get from one side to the other, we need a means of crossing. But Holy Saturday declares the impossibility of bridging the two.

The Spirit, as Rambo, outlines is the form of divine presence in the middle space. It is the love, the “weary love” of God that “survives and remains not in victory but in weariness” (p. 80).

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.

Spirit and Trauma (1 of 6)

I’m slowly reading Dr. Shelly Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining and because I am not reading it for “school” and because I miss blogging, I’m going to reflect as I read.

Rambo’s work is a pastoral theology, the broad discipline I study, and this book is a sweet nexus of my interests in trauma studies, healing, and Spirit. She is working to claim the middle space between death and life and aiming to clarify how trauma can prevent persons from identifying with death or life. Trauma, horrendous and inexplicable, leads to a kind of middle existence where death has not come and life hasn’t either.

In the introduction, Rambo describes her book as an attempt to listen to the experiences of persons impacted by Hurricane Katrina and to show how trauma continues, how it doesn’t end, and how “trauma is the study of what remains” (p. 15). She works to construct a theology of Spirit that has meaning in the midst of unending trauma.

Drawing upon traditional Christian stories of the resurrection, that chief event most Christians cling to in order to point to how God redeems all, and death, the clear event where life stops, Rambo is offering a mild protest of these polar moments. This is reading of her at this early point. These two moments are, seemingly, too clear and clean. They both occur, bringing what they bring. They are though, for Rambo, vapid when it comes to the experience of trauma precisely because trauma resists falling into the clear, clean episodic instantiations of death and life. Trauma spills beyond hard borders.

Something happens between life and death, in the middle as Rambo writes. It is this middle-space, this “middle discourse,” this in-between that Rambo seems to want to discuss. She says – and rightly in my view – that Christians (and not them only) tend to rely on turning suffering into glory but without appreciating trauma’s “dislocation, its distance, and its fragmentation” (p. 8). I am looking forward to the book because of this. There is something quite rewarding about a resurrection and its sure and definitive perspective. There is also something missing, isn’t it? There is pain and death but it’s hardly appreciated. Rambo says that the accounts of redemption are insufficient. They are weakened by there plain disregard for the dislocating experience of trauma. Ah, the promise of this.

Rambo will work with the language of the gospels in the book, using the three days of Jesus’s death, entombment, and resurrection, and she will land in that middle space, that Saturday, that day where most preachers sleep in their sermons. In some ways, I think my ministry is postured for this middle, this Saturdayed experience of human existence, so I’ve already found a partner in Rambo in the introduction.

The book will outline a hermeneutical lens with trauma as the lens. Think of eyeglasses, tools I live with in order to see. Trauma will be the lens through which Rambo sees redemption. She’ll work to show us how Spirit presents (or is present) in the shattered. This arrests me right away and is frightening because it requires an openness to time in a way that’s largely unacknowledged. Is the Spirit present and active in the minutes and hours of unending emotional disaster?

I think of the time when Jesus died for example. I’ve gone to too many Good Friday services and an equal number of too many Easter Sunday services where the middle space stretched into silence. It is as if Saturday is either nonexistent or that it’s meant to be a bridge we walk over but don’t talk about. Can anyone get to Sunday without that middle space? We cannot. I am angling as I read to learn how to complicate the steps between Friday and Sunday. Maybe people arrive at church too quickly. Maybe we need the slow down as we trek through the soul-dark day before Sunday. And we may be tutored by Rambo on how to see trauma as a lens whereby we interpret again the experience of what’s left when trauma occurs.

While Rambo does not frame her book within Pentecostal studies, I cannot help but read the book as I am, a variously hyphenated Christian who happily introduces himself in ecumenical and academic religious gatherings as a black Bapticostal from the South side ordained to pastor in a denomination of historically Swedish immigrants. Try to box me if you dare!

I am looking forward to the book. I already hear the Spirit’s rumblings in the early words. So far, the Spirit is resisting the easy approach to do anything other than witness what real. I want to read this through once in a week but I’ll write posts about each chapter over the next 2 or 3.

 

Earning or Leaving

I was sitting with something that took weeks to do. Looking at it, I was asking what it could give me, what it could offer to the latest attempts toward refinement. Could more be done? Would I be able to pull together something that was already in the best form I could create?

It was a paper that took weeks to write and it needed more work, more revision, more reworking. It was a good thing but it created a small fright full of wonderings. I wrote the paper and I had to, now, develop that other relationship with the words in order to let them go when they didn’t earn a place in the latest iteration.

The days after the decision letter have felt like a little test. Can I write something else, essentially changing what I thought was good into a new, even if revised, paper? I am used to holding things and words and lives, but leaving and deleting and cutting have become a recent skill.

I did this last year and I remember all the reactions I’m seeing again. Looking at tracked changes, little narratives between me and that editor, back then have served my current frightfulness. It can be done. I’ve done this before. I’m thrilled about it and not only frightened. Both are true.

As for the reactions, I’m watching them pass by. Revision really seems to require a different lens. I want to use different glasses. I have to. And this time will serve the next time where words and the small lives they have will either earn a place in that upcoming future or leave.

Things Heard Daily

When I’m actively supervising a group of CPE students, it always impacts when I can get to my unit in the intensive care where I’m the unit chaplain.

When I’m not supervising, for instance, it’s easier to be with my patients because I have more time for patient care.

When I’m supervising students, I split my time between the pastoral education component of my work and the clinical chaplaincy with patients and staff.

The other day I was in the MICU, and I heard something that I hear whenever I’m on the floor. Have you ever considered what you hear on a day-to-day basis?

It didn’t occur to me that I heard this comment so much until that moment. A nurse was talking to another nurse and she said, “I’ll help you.”

I think a patient needed moving. They may have been readying for a procedure. I can’t remember the context, but the phrase stood up and jumped into my ears.

I hear it all the time. Nurses talking to nurses. Supervisors talking to students. Fellows talking to residents. When you spend your time hearing, “I’ll help you,” it turns you into a person who expects help and, maybe, who will be helpful.

Current Learning

I’m reading about bodies a lot, particularly black bodies, and I’m also reading about trauma, though not trauma theory per se. I’m doing this for my course of study and because my courses are of interest to me, I’m doing this for me.

These readings are at work on my consciousness, hopefully helping me think about and see people in their bodies. I’d like to be a person who knows how to actually participate, in a healing way, in the lives of people who have been hurt.

As a man who’s trying to live in his body and who feels that everyday, with all the nuances that falling on the floor with my boys brings; or being kicked while sparring offers the second day after that class; or after sitting too long and hearing of sounds of my loosening joints; or, hell, waking up and getting out of bed and needing what my yoga teacher calls a full body stretch (who knew I’d need to do that?); as that person, it’s getting harder to forget about my body.

I like remembering my body, acquainting myself with this physical blackness that walks through the world. And I’m starting to re-view history of the last couple years when I was just going and going and holding at bay this awareness. I’m learning how to notice my self.

I hope I’m learning how to notice the same self in others. I think it’s getting easier to consider, to see, and to hold in my gaze and in my mind the bodies of others.

I wonder what you hope you’re learning? What are you currently seeing?

 

 

Trauma, Images, and Prayers for Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett was attacked in Chicago last week–and because he is gay and black. According to published reports, his injuries occurred while he was walking home in the early hours.

He was insulted during the assault, called names during the severe attack, and thankfully he received medical attention. Brother Smollett yesterday spoke out and his words are being widely reported and underscore his work with the police to find those responsible for his attack.

According to a piece in the SunTimes, he opens his greetings, “Beautiful people. Let me start by saying that I’m OK.” Despite the ugly words spoken over him and the terrible beating given him, he can address a beautiful people. What an image of resilience.

In the last week, folks have been searching for answers about the attack the way the Chicago Police Department searches for the assailants in an attack, developing theories, turning over possible motivations, and questioning every known thing that’s been said in the media.

Black and nonblack people are invested in knowing what happened, appalled at what happened, and engaged in making sure justice comes. That said, I want to encourage you to, among other things, notice the deep and long ways that Brother Smollett’s situation is a part of a historically potent way of harming individuals and disarming a people, namely black people.

Whoever the attackers are, Brother Smollett’s trauma links to the dismal history of harm that comes from personalized aggression that forms in the United States of American context that makes violence and murder an acceptable way of dealing with anger, fear, and difference.

Chicago, like other places, participates in the ways lynching and murderous assaults have kept black people under the ever-present possibility of violence. Living after an assault, anyone’s assault, makes the person living and the community living after that assault a part of the trauma. Everyone is implicated in the pain of the violence.

In other words, Brother Smollett’s sexual life made him a part of the history of assaults occurring against gay and lesbian people. Second, his blackness made him participant, in a similar way, of the history of violence against black folk. Of course, the obvious interconnections between race and sex and gender, and even class, formed a historical and contemporary storm that contributed to this situation.

The offenders participated as well. They had choices to let the man be, to pass him on the street as he walked home, and they chose differently. They participated as offenders in what Womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas called an “aggressive assertion” of Smollett’s “guilty black body.”

As Elizabeth Weise says in her brief USA Today piece, “Lynching may seem like something out of the distant past, but the use of lynching symbolism to terrify, intimidate and curtail the lives of black Americans is very much happening today.” Think of that noose around Brother Smollett’s neck.

Brown Douglas studies this past and current violence in her book Stand Your Ground and locates lynching symbolism in slavery, emancipation, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow laws. “Essentially, the more the black body is free, the more intense the war against its body,” says Brown Douglas.

Weise and Brown Douglas offer a point that peace and justice-loving people have been promoting for more than a century. This crime in Chicago is one that the country is intimately acquainted with, and I mean to be descriptive, in the saddest of ways. The lineage of laws and customs are deeply rooted in the United States, the corresponding trauma exacerbated by how long these violent acts have plagued black people.

The connection between being wrapped with a noose near a Chicago bridge echoes on the many men, women, and children who were hanged, burned, tortured, and killed in days and decades past. Cornel West wrote in his popular Race Matters, “One of the best ways to instill fear in people is to terrorize them.”

Hasn’t this happened again for black people as one black man, Brother Smollett, has been terrorized? Thankfully as he wrote, he’s okay, which points to a well-walked path in these hard situations. He was hurt and he will continue to act, continue to pursue his offenders, continue to live his life. And with him, the rest of us. I hope we will continue to pursue justice with the same interest that we are wondering about who did what to whom and when.

Finally, here is a prayer that I’m praying for him and for us, those who are traumatized by extension, traumatized by having been a part of the black community or other badly treated communities. As a straight man and pastor, I write it hoping it is an invitation for us to pray together for justice to come, even if you’ll pray beyond your own particular borders of prayerfulness:

You are the One who heals all manner of illness.

The worst conditions shudder at your presence.

Pain, anguish, and brutality while felt by you are not stronger than you.

You know what happened to Brother Smollett.

You know the deep pains he bears.

And you aren’t far from the pains we feel as a community of supporters.

Black and nonblack crowd around the country and world to pull for his wholeness.

Grant the affirmation and recognition that we need.

Help us to know that we are made by and belong to you,

One that heals in the face of trauma.

Notice his offenders and do what only the Divine can by seeking justice.

Work in and through detectives and citizens so that moral laws are embodied.

Bring healing to Brother Smollett from every sacred space, from sanctuaries and prayer closets, from chapels and prayer rugs.

Bring hope for us all after another incident of unmistakable violence.

Make and claim this city and every one for holy purposes.

Live in this city and make it your habitation.

Bring with you whatever comes with your nearness.

Answer us with change in Chicago and the United States.

Give us strength in our efforts to see justice occur.

Give us wisdom for every next step.

Give us deliverance from every present evil.

And we’ll keep seeking.

Feedback

I learned something again about myself that I knew, but the learning came across in a way that I was ready for. It was feedback.

The basis of it was in my leaving a person feeling like there was, for that person, more to do, more to accomplish.

As I heard it, I settled in and I started to like that. I have learned this but the way it came felt like a gift.

I’m unwrapping it and it fits.

Critiquing the Deeply Embedded

You may not be able to do much about the deeply embedded reality of another person, system, or structure. It’s sad and may be cynical, but it’s also real.

The deeply embedded knowings, truths, or realities of others mean that they have made commitments that they aren’t likely to release.

When someone commits to something so strongly, they have cultivated a way of being that they naturally protect. They hold it tightly. After all, what’s a commitment if you don’t keep it?

You may be able to reframe what you see. You may be able to affirm that the system is seeking familiarity or that the person is doing what’s familiar. You may stretch in your imagination and see the fear of change that is present.

But those are reframes, imaginative attempts for you to adjust to what’s real, and that is that some situations don’t change. Some people don’t change. Some structures have to end on their own choking path.

Maybe your critique is better suited for who and what can accept it, house it, and respond to it. Maybe.

Contemplation Plus Fatherhood

My friend said something to me years ago that I can’t remember. He says things I like to remember but the way he phrased his words slips me. What I haven’t forgotten is what I’ve done with what he said.

In my mind, what I’ve done is try to pull together the strands of fatherhood and contemplation. I do remember leaving that conversation thinking, “How can I be a contemplative father?”

I think back to his words, said to me on the street in our neighborhood and just outside our mechanic’s office, when I hear people say of their own child-rearing, “The years run by.” Or something like, “Don’t blink. You’ll look up and they’ll be leaving home.”

When people say this, I think of contemplative parenting. I think of my conversation with my friend. In my mental world, contemplative parenting brings together being a parent and being in the moment. Contemplation means being where you are. It means being centered and keeping your weight over that center. It means to be present.

Pulling together contemplation and parenting, it’s impossible to miss moments. Your practice is to be in those moments. You certainly don’t remember them all. Your brain does things with memories that you and I can’t understand. There are things that you lose or let go of. You forget. You will forget but that doesn’t mean you will have missed the moments.

You will have lived them. You will have participated in them. In that sense, those moments as a father (for me) will always be there (in the present), have been there (in the past), and left me available for being there (in the future). If my orientation is to be in the moment, I miss nothing. To be sure, it is exhausting, this orientation.

It’s easier to obsess about a future. It’s easier to fume over yesterdays. It is hard to be right where I am. May God continue to help me.