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.

Being Liberated from Traumas

I’m reading a great book by Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score, a thick but approachable exploration into how the brain and body respond to traumas and how we can address such things. Bessel says many things that catch my eyes. And though this quote doesn’t leak the full and meaty words and stories I remember from all my psychology courses about the brain, here’s a quote for you that feels significant these days:

My Blog: Trauma 3

When we were checking in with each other the Wednesday after Election Day, my supervisor described our having been through a trauma. Traumas take some getting used to. He said in swift Strening fashion, “It takes time to learn what can be trusted.”

Perfect. Accurate. Compelling. I thought at the time how grateful I was for his supervision, for his way of putting things, and for his open spirit that feels. He is as great a pastor as he is a supervisor. And there he was summing up a decisive collective experience. Trauma.

I’ve learned in CPE that traumas take many forms. They are often unexpected. They leave us feeling brutalized and sometimes tired, spent. Traumas require a response when we have little energy for it. Traumas pull the soul through thick, murky sludge, and no matter when we emerge, we’ll be different.

The look of it will be up on us. The smell of it distinct. Trauma can’t remain hidden. At least at first. Naming it for what it is helps.

Calling an election trauma matters. Distinguishing the singular event – that had all those earlier moments attached it – as trauma separates it and brings it to our collective consciousness for what it is.

As you recover, take the time you need. Visit the reality of what’s happened in our country. See the fractures and fears. Witness the same in you. Slow down to appreciate how hard life is for you and for us. It will take time to learn what can be trusted.

My Blog: Trauma 2

The quickest responders are the ones who count. That’s what I usually say to myself.

Those are the medical personnel. Together, the team is between 15-20 people: physicians and nurses and respiratory techs. Security and a chaplain and a hospital administrator. We rush within minutes from all quarters in the hospital.

The medical folks address the medical crisis. They attempt to stabilize the patient all while deciding if and where the patient will be moved to a different unit in the hospital.

That could mean transporting someone from the lobby to the Emergency Department. It could mean a patient, once stabilized, is taken from a medical floor to one of the intensive care units. In most cases, movement for the patient is presumed. Even if it takes time to accomplish.

Chaplains come with the primary focus on the family in order to support anyone present who may be with the patient and with a secondary concern for our care providers. Watching trauma unfold is its own participation in trauma.

Participating in trauma does things to people. It anchors you and disrupts you. Both happen. In a trauma, someone else’s and your own, the world that you knew flips.

Time changes. People move quickly and they don’t move quickly enough. The room is noisy and the floor cluttered with needle caps and clothes and ripped packages that once held tubes and lines and other medical implements.

It is an essentially upsetting, unsettling, and uprooting experience. Have you experienced something like this? Perhaps not a medical crisis but another version of trauma? What’s helped?

My Blog: Trauma 1

In our hospital when a trauma happens, a page is sent through the system to a team. Chaplains are part of the rapid response team so our on-call chaplain gets the page and responds within 5-10 minutes to the scene. The same team responds to cardiac arrests and visitors who fall unconscious unexpectedly on the campus.

Because our hospital campus includes several buildings over several city blocks, it can take time to arrive to a trauma. It may take effort to leave a conversation that you’re in as a spiritual caregiver, for instance. A doctor may need to leave a patient’s room immediately. A nurse may need to grab a crisis cart and place some things in the hands of a colleague.

Some trauma calls turn out to be seizures, relatively bland events for the amount of resources “coming at a person” when the page is called. Still, being a part of a rapid response assumes a readiness to encounter the worst. It assumes that we’re prepared to stick around and labor through what’s next.

A family who’s grieving demonstrably. A patient who is unaccompanied and whose chest is being pumped, whose ribs are being broken. Being there assumes that we’ll see and that’ll we’ll do our work. That we’ll be steady.

It is its own walk of faith, responding to those traumas. You know and don’t know what you’ll see. Being steady is a hard job when pain is winning. How do you keep yourself steady? How do you see the traumas unfold and still show up?