For me, it is a lake in Western Maine. There is a boat house there, where I find repose. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). A simple dock stretches out into the lake. I lay on my stomach, and stare into the clear water.
How ‘bout you? Where do you find rest? What is going to help you run the marathon of our current times? So far, 2020 has brought us a pandemic, murderous racism, oppressive violence, and destructive leadership. Yet, here we are on the brink of summer. Summer? Can we even travel? Go to camp? What if we can’t afford a second home in the countryside, let alone pay our rent in the city? What if we are too busy protecting our children from racism and police brutality? Perhaps, we have lost jobs and our healthcare. Adding to the weight of this season is ongoing climate crisis, and economic free fall. Dear God. What does the second half of 2020 hold for us? Is it possible to take a breather?
Professionally, theologically and spiritually, I have asked myself, how do I want to show up for these times? In discussing this question with two colleagues at the mental health clinic where I work, we concluded that we simply did not know or have the answers. All we can do, we concluded, was to pray, each day, to be there for one another. There is something helpful is this theology of not knowing. Paradoxically, it is often in moments of despair, when we are impoverished and alone, that space begins to open up again. Our vision clears, a blank canvas is set before us, ready for something new to take shape. God calls us into deeper relationship, particularly in these times of external unrest and internal confusion.
There are all kinds of trauma happening right now – little t, big T and all caps TRAUMA. All of it held by God. Just for today, though, let’s raise up complex trauma. Jana Pressley and Joseph Spinazzola define complex trauma in their article, Coping Strategies for Complex Trauma Survivors Contending with The Coronavirus Pandemic . They write, “Complex trauma exposure comes in many forms including but not limited to experiencing childhood neglect or abuse; witnessing or experiencing domestic or community violence; enduring lifelong racial, cultural, religious or gendered oppression; and growing up in chaotic, unpredictable living situations”…. (Pressley and Spinazzola, 2020, pg. 3). An inner voice says, stay rooted in your God. Easier said than done. These past experiences of helplessness or powerlessness associated with chronic trauma can carry into the present day and be triggered “during times when our surrounding environment or larger culture is experiencing threats to safety or disruptions to daily life routines” (Pressley, and Spinazzola, 2020, pg. 5). Feelings of isolation intensify, memories return unbidden, emotional overwhelm seemingly comes out of nowhere as our cortisol levels rise.
Going back to that boat house in Maine, it is there that I find myself grow still. I hear God in the lapping waves. I write really, really bad poetry, because the words don’t stop. The sparkling water offers a restorative canvas. Lapping waves erase time, and soothe memories. Unruly winds slow; changing course. History’s edges, softening. (Okay, I warned you.)
What are you struggling with during this time of unrest and uncertainty? Is there any part of you sitting with loneliness, separation, isolation, and/or overwhelm? Are childhood memories of neglect and abuse returning to your consciousness – to the point you have to stop, sit down and pause, in the middle of say, your morning routine or while cooking dinner? When you pick up the newspaper and read about the global pandemic, poverty, modern-day lynching, and generations of damaging racism, what happens to you internally? God knows that we are tired and worn out; our souls ache. We are indeed on the brink of summer, in the year 2020.
May we find sacred pause, reconnection, and healing in the days ahead. May we give ourselves needed space and respite so that we can run this marathon. And, then, restored, let us show up in the way God intends.
Jennifer Stuart is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She serves as a community minister at First Church in Cambridge, MA, UCC. Jennifer, a clinical social worker specializing in psychological trauma, is a psychotherapist at the Danielsen Institute at Boston University.