I’ve spent the last few hours reading the classic “Trauma and Recovery” by Judith Herman and reflecting on Good Friday–a perfect storm for a 300 word sermon.
Herman notes that a primary problem with addressing abuse and trauma is our inability–as individuals and as a nation–to speak about abuse and trauma let alone “proclaim aloud” the horrible events that are ongoing in our own homes and communities. Given our inability to name and listen to stories of (preventable) tragedy, our continual state of denial, Herman argues, has created a dysfunctional culture which is more likely to self-protect by attaching stigma onto victims than to risk creating safe and restorative mechanisms between survivors, perpetrators, and their communities. This is deeply problematic because–as Herman convincingly demonstrates–a person impacted by trauma and violence will best recover when her community begins to join in on the grieving process.
In general, and on Good Friday in particular, Christians–I would suggest perhaps more than anyone–have a word for how to create a culture that actually allows for prevention and communal recovery:
On Good Friday, we look to the cross as we name violence, tragedy, abuse, trauma, grief, and injustice for what they are as we ritually proclaim that these realities are intimately close to us, and to God.
On Good Friday, Christians have a prophetic voice because we strive to hold up traumatic realities in our churches, re-membering ourselves around an insistence that these horrors must be taken seriously and that their importance cannot be forgotten.
And on Good Friday, we have a word to those who have been abused or wounded by any form of violence: “you are safe and heard in our communities because we know that trauma is real and that there are creative, Easter-morning possibilities that God can bring forth from suffering.” I believe these are messages our society needs and that, as a Church, we should be well positioned and inspired to offer.
Therefore, the first step in helping our society become a place which can engage responsibly with violence and abuse might be for the Church to keep learning to listen, validate, and sit in stories of the unspeakable. After that, my hope is that–for ourselves and others–we can begin speak the unspeakable–both of violence and of resurrection.