Faith, Grief, Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Anchoring

From my collection of unpublished pieces circa early 2018.

When it came time for our oldest son to attend Sunday School, I balked. My late husband was no help because the concept of Sunday School was completely foreign to him. Tony was a product of parochial school. In his mind, we simply attended worship on Sunday. Religious education was taken care by the nuns during the week. Except in Ricky’s case there were no nuns at the private Montessori school he attended.

My own reservations were two-fold. So many things about God, Christianity, Jesus, and what seemed to me the veneration of Jesus’ violent death made me uncomfortable. My mother calmly clarified things for me one day when she stated, “All young children need is to know that God is love. The rest can come later.”

Her seemingly simple statement centered me through more years of questioning my own faith, changing congregations twice, parenting my children through much turbulence, and beginning seminary.

I think a lot about life, faith, and God since Tony died. Sudden death forces the living to recalibrate every moment of every day. Yet in the beginning, I lived in trauma’s shock. My mind struggled to think. My body shook from any number of reasons. Left-over adrenalin, fatigue, and lack of food being the most common. My sons felt in losing their dad they had also lost the me they had once known.

But early one morning in the pit of this mess I had a brief wave of clarity. My job was to love. Love my sons, Love myself. And in loving the three of us through this unbelievable time, love God as well (Matthew 25).

Something opened within. Allowing the wonderful work of child development theorists to creep back into my brain. Combine with this quirky need to read Tony’s professional library, particularly the texts on love, relationships, and trauma. Discovering once again how human development theory and research mirrors God’s message through scripture. Even though I couldn’t really read scripture again yet. Only that funny line Job utters in chapter seven which now made complete sense to me: “Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?“

And eventually the book of Ruth because, let’s face it, three strong widows in one story is wildly amazing and attractive to someone yearning to be a strong widow full of self-agency.

Now after twenty-one years of marriage, twenty years of parenting, and fifteen months into grief and trauma recovery, I know this about my life: I want to center in love. And if nothing else makes sense (which it doesn’t right now) somehow the greatest commandment does in its “all you need to know is that God is love and the rest will come later” kind-of-a-way.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 NRSV

Words I see interpreted every time I drive north on Interstate 35 near Lakeville, Minnesota. There on the West side of the road a billboard reading “Love God. Love Others,” catching both eye and heart. Adding two more words: “Love God. Love Others. Love Self.”

Love anchoring me like a plumb line.

Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

Faith, Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery

Easter Early in Grief

Every Lent a simple wreath hangs on our door. It’s a peace sign woven from vines by a third world woman. Someone trying to better her life and therefore the lives of her family by fingers practicing hope.

This sign also hung on our door from the first August morning of our grief. I took down our summer garland of blue and yellow flowers and hung this one up instead. Attempting to mark us as a home experiencing a different time than everyone else’s. Wanting to wrap the wreath in black ribbon but could not find the energy for it. So the peace sign hung as is for months, actually until Thanksgiving or Advent, I don’t remember which. Longer however than I lasted in my all black widow’s wardrobe hanging heavy on my shoulders.

This morning checking the mailbox I looked at our wreath of peace, the same color as the dead foliage falling against our home. Realized I was done with long dreary Iowa springs, grief, and Lent. Decided to find our flowered Eastertide wreath waiting for its turn on the door. It’s blooms signaling something good, something looked forward to and now here. Thinking its flowers, bouncing off the budding daffodils along our front walk, create a cacophony of color celebrating the return of something deemed beautiful.

So days before Palm Sunday, the day marking the beginning of what comes next in the Christian story, I took down our peace wreath. Not because I have fully found peace, but maybe because I haven’t. Not yet. Not quite yet. Maybe I trust, because Tony taught me this and Aunt Linda keeps reminding me, that I can and will heal and will come to some sort of peace with what happened.  Knowing a one time trauma is not comparable to perpetuated trauma, not as complicated. More of a clean break in trauma speak, no emotional pins or surgery escalating matters even more. Yet still full of sorrow. Occasional panic attacks creeping in from out of nowhere except now I know how to appease this pain.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five.Repeat.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five. Repeat.

Breath in for five. No hold. Breath out for five. Repeat.

On and on in a circle of breath, maybe five minutes or so, until the agitated sensations running through my body pass away returning me to my now normal. Finding Easter in my breath. Life, resurrected from grief’s anguish. Again and again. Breath after breath. Blooming even in my muck.

A version of this piece was first posted on April 8, 2017.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Faith, Grief, Newsletter, Prayer, Trauma recovery

March Newsletter, 2022

Lenten Litany

During this season of Lent let us pray,

Creating God, produce peace within each of us. Ask our inner peace to radiate out into the world.

Saving Jesus, provide lasting healing within each of us. Lead our healing into peace.

Advocating Spirit, reveal wounds within each of us needing mending. Accompany us toward healing ways.

Saving Jesus, provide lasting healing within each of us. Lead our healing into peace.

Creating God, produce peace within each of us. Ask our inner peace to radiate out into the world. Amen.

~Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez, March 4, 2022~

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

HUGE ASK: Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Authors need a minimum of 100 reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads to be effective. I have 96 more to go! Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my thanks!

BUY THE BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press.  Or support your local, independent bookstore.

BONUS SECTION

Creating a book begins as a solitary endeavor. But publishing a book requires a team–literary agent, copy editors, marketing professionals, a publisher, typesetters, book sellers, printers, and of course visual artists. I’m blessed that Chalice Press asked for my input every step of the way including ideas for the front cover. Here’s my initial rough sketch next to the finished cover. From my stick-figure sketch to the published front cover–WOW! Thank you, Ranka and 99designs!

My sketch
The Cover

RESOURCES IN GRIEF AND TRAUMA RECOVERY

Two months into widowhood, I giggled my way through this book: Widow to Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas for Rebuilding Your Life by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg.

Widow To Widow

HAPPENINGS

Planning for future in-person, hybrid, and online speaking engagements is underway for 2022. If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak. Here’s what’s on the calendar for March, April, and June: 

In-Person

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 7:00 pm: In-person book talk at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa. Prairie Lights Bookstore will be there selling my book before and after the event.

Podcasts

Tues. May 3 – Ep. 52: Grief + Healing Author Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez on Untrained Wisdom.

Thursday, June 16th, 2022 at 2:00 pm: Faith+Lead Book Hub event.

In the News

Gazette interview with Rob Cline.

Gather Magazine published my article, “Small, simple self-care” in their January/February 2022 edition. 

Read why Chalice Press decided to publish A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance.

November 4, 2021:  A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA eNews.

Interviews

Q & A with Chalice Press President, Brad Lyons.

Book launch interview with Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life and Compassionate Christianity

On this podcast episode of This is Life and the Living of It, Steven D. Lee and I talk about trauma recovery and faith.

March Newsletter, 2022: All rights reserved by the author.

Faith, Grief, Healing, Newsletter, Trauma recovery

February Newsletter 2022

WAITING

This month finds me busy doing book interviews, planning for upcoming in-person events, and writing a couple of articles. But I am also listening to the stirrings of Spirit. Wondering when and where my first call in ordained ministry will be. In other words, I am waiting.

Waiting can be frustrating. I have days in which I am anxious about the future and angry at the process. These times remind me of when I waited for grief to lift just a bit so I could feel like myself again. And as in grief and trauma recovery, I find myself doing a lot of slow breathing in and even slower breathing out. For me breath work helps maintain a small sense of still being centered in my body.

Breathing also reminds me I have agency in my life. Agency means choices. Some seen, still more cloaked under my own or the world’s pain. Prayer often accompanies my intentional breathing. And as my angst lifts, I thank God for the help and gifts I am aware of and also the ones I have yet to discover. My prayers often end with an exhaled “amen.”

Waiting then is not stagnate. It is full of moving air often taken for granted as Spirit swirls with an imperceptible wind gaining momentum until fully revealed.

THE VALUE OF REVIEWS

So this is a big one! Every author relies on readers to write online reviews. Authors need a minimum of 100 reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads to be effective. Please, please, please consider reviewing my book on Goodreads and at my Amazon author’s page. You have my thanks!

BUY THE BOOK

CP chalice only  Put A Time to Mourn & a Time to Dance on your bookshelf! My book is currently available (on sale!) at Chalice Press. 

BONUS SECTION

In one of the many early drafts of A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance I included a poem as an epigraph before what is now the Prologue. Here’s the poem.

Remembering our beginning,

Misplaced in life’s ups and downs,

Rekindled in a shared glance,

Me alone holding our story,

Attending eternity’s truths,

Gifting me again with our love.

RESOURCES IN GRIEF AND TRAUMA RECOVERY

I love this video from the Ergos Institute of Somatic Education: Growing in Spirituality

A BOOK RECENTLY READ

I recently finished reading Elizabeth Stout’s Oh, William! The character, Lucy Barton, says toward the end of the book something resonating with me both as a writer and as a mother.

“But I was a writer. And that is a vocation…but I wanted those children more than I wanted my work. And I had them. But I needed my work as well…I would give it all up…all of it I would give up–in a heartbeat I would give it up–for a family that was together and children who knew they were dearly loved by both parents…”(219-220)

HAPPENINGS

Planning for future in-person, hybrid, and online speaking engagements is underway for 2022. If your organization, church, podcast, conference, library, or literary festival is interested in inviting me to speak, please click here: Invite Jennifer to Speak. Here’s what’s on the calendar so far: 

In-Person

Monday, February 21, 2022: I’m presenting at the event “Poems for a Dangerous Time” at the Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina.

Sunday, March 13, 2022: Join me at the Tucson Festival of Books! I’ll be at the Adult Fiction/Non-Fiction tent from 2:30 to 4:30. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 7:00 pm: In-person book talk at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa. No registration necessary.

In the News

Gather Magazine published my article, “Small, simple self-care” in their January/February 2022 edition. 

Read why Chalice Press decided to publish A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance.

November 4, 2021:  A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance is in the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the ELCA eNews.

Interviews

Q & A with Chalice Press President, Brad Lyons.

Book launch interview with Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life and Compassionate Christianity

On this podcast episode of This is Life and the Living of It, Steven D. Lee and I talk about trauma recovery and faith.

February Newsletter, 2022. All rights reserved by the author.

Faith, Grief, Love

STUFF

Last week I dropped off another load of stuff. Made a donation of sorts to an organization assisting people in need. My stuff helps make their programs happen. I’ve been doing this kind off-loading a lot lately as I forage through item after item in our home looking to toss, keep, or give away.

Of course each item is infused with memories. As I throw out a broken Tonka truck I hear the traffic sounds my young sons once made years ago. As I load up a box with books I remember my beloved career in early care and education. As I sort through old picture frames I remember life as it once was and is no longer. Our stuff holds memories just as the walls of our homes and churches seem to do. As if these inanimate objects and structures infuse our lives with living breath. Memories however are not alive. Yet they are within us functioning as internal containers of the past, ones full of emotions. Some memories, wonderful and loving. Others reminding us of past tragedies, regrets, and unfulfilled dreams.

In December of 1995 I said goodbye to a room full of three, four, and five year old children and their parents and guardians. Most of these families were immigrants. Some from Palestine and more from Mexico. Many families were in Chicago illegally having fled war, hunger, and disease. Even the three year old children showed visible signs of where they came from: Large crusted scars from untreated pinworm, PTSD from witnessing violence, and visceral memories of being hungry. Saying goodbye to these children was painful. I loved them and they me.

Through tears during one last circle time I reached my hands and arms out wide as if holding them all. Then I gathered the air in bringing unseen molecules toward me. My hands resting on my heart as my words spoke my truth: “I will always be in your hearts and you will always be in mine.”

And I have. Held them in my heart for almost twenty-seven years. Their faces, laughs, smiles, and tears rest within me. Surrounded by circles of hope. Well wishes for them and our shared world as prayer for something greater than we can imagine.

My heart, your heart, all hearts expand, make room, welcome. So that when the mementos break, disintegrate, take up too much space, or our beloved church decides to change, combine, or close, then we have what lives on in our hearts, souls, and minds. And we can remember that’s where God lives as well. In us, wherever we go and whatever we do. Always finding new life when what lives in us meets what lives in others. Reminding us that it is not the stuff stored in our closets or the beloved physical places holding our lives. It’s the relationships we grow with God, ourselves, and others.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Faith, Healing meditation, Trauma recovery

Gathering Stars

 

image

 

“He (The LORD) brought him (Abram) outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”  (Genesis 15:5 NRSV)

 

There once was a man named Abram who felt God abandoned him. God had promised him something, a son with his wife Sarai.  A son, ensuring life continuing after Abram was gone. Now Abram and Sarai were too old to have a child.

But God asked Abram to go outside and look up into the night sky. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them,” God said.

Abram looked up. Not down. Or straight ahead. Or behind. Or to the side. But up. Up! Discovering sky covering him like a gigantic tent. Stars hanging from its roof. Some bright. Some faded. Some painting the night sky with streaks of light. Stars everywhere! So many stars Abram could not count them.

And God said, “So, shall your descendant be.”

 

Abram’s time and place is not our time and place. Yet the sky still exists. It fills nightly with clouds, stars, planets, and a moon. A sky full. Reminding us of God’s presence among us. Now. Today. Tonight. Next week. Month. Year. God remains. God always remains. God remains promising tomorrow.

 

Healing Activity

 

Imagine in your mind you are standing or sitting outside under a night sky. On a patio or deck or balcony. In a large field, out in the desert, on top of a hill. Anywhere your mind takes you.

Fill your lungs with air. Feel the cool night air on your limbs. Listen to the night’s noises. Feel your feet on the ground. Or your hips in a chair.

Now look up. Into the sky. Notice the night. Notice if the night is clear or cloudy. Notice if the moon is waxing, waning, or full.

Still looking up, take a deep breath in and exhale slowly out.

Breathe in again, with gentleness. Breathe out with relief.

Breathe in with gentleness. Out with relief.

This time breathe in opening your arms wide and out to the side. Exhale lifting your arms up into the sky. And look up.

Breathe in again reaching as far as you can into the sky. Gathering the night’s stars or clouds or air in your arms. Exhale, bringing your arms toward your chest. Placing your hands on your heart. Like a heart hug.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in again. This time reaching your arms into the night sky. Gathering stars or clouds or air. Exhale bringing your arms down. Placing your hands on your heart.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in again. Reach. Gathering the night.  Exhale. Placing gifts on your heart.

Breathe in. Leaving your hands on your heart. Breathe out.

Breathe in all the promises sitting on your heart now with gentleness. Out with relief.

Breathe in with gentleness. Out with relief.

Breathe in with gentleness. Out with relief.

Prayer

God who created vastness in night’s sky, clouds moving on wind, moon in muted light, and all seen and unseen stars. Remind us each night you are always with us. Guide us with night time wonders.  Move us toward healing salve, beloved community, and further into your work on earth.

Go in peace, holding God’s promise in your heart. Amen.

~~~

Find a video of this meditation at https://community.contemplativelife.org/forum/gathering-stars 

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/photos/starry-night-starry-sky-silhouette-1149815/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Slow Trauma, Psalmist Style

bowling-596766_1920

Every day I check the maps. First, my state map. How many cases in my county? How many deaths in my state? Watch Iowa’s numbers increase daily. Each day showing additions. Not subtractions. Yesterday, 1710. Today?

Move to the country’s map. How many states in the United States of America are on stay-at-home orders?  Most states now have them. Mine does not. Governor refuses. Claiming freedom, more important than life. Asking us to die for it. Her stubborn stance making us more anxious, lonely, afraid, and unprotected.

My last check, the world. Numbers, never the same. Never less. Only more. Throwing me back into the cushions I lean on. Despair’s long sigh escaping through my nose. Sinking my heart lower and lower. Until questions erupt. Not of maps, leaders, or politicians. But of God.

 

How long, O Lord?

Will you forget me forever?

 

 How long will you hide your face from me?

 How long must I bear pain in my soul,  and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

 

 How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

 

Ancient words still keening. Sounded from the psalmist. Written in Psalm 13, first two verses. (NRSV) Naming our feelings of abandoned-ness, pain, sorrow.

Walk on path one bright day. Hear frogs sing. Filling woods with sound. Notice flock of gulls dancing in sun’s rays. Breathe in spring’s warming air.  “I feel like a bowling pin,” I say. “A bowling ball rolls toward me. In slow motion. Growing larger as I watch.”

Mind sees me standing with all my beloveds. Facing forward. At the end of alley ’s lane. Watching the ball. Praying it veers off to one side, teeters on the edge, finds the gutter. But the ball stays on course. Toward us. As we freeze. Immobilized. Caught in a slow form of trauma. Spanning days, weeks, months. Trauma approaching, getting closer and closer. As we continue standing. Hearing ball against wood floor. Feeling moving vibrations beneath our feet. Ball growing bigger and bigger. Soul asking again like the psalmist. “How long, O LORD?” (v 1)

Brain, a funny organ in humans. Mine flashes. With wonderings in trauma’s watch. How does the psalmist manage hope in the last two verses? Beginning with, “But I trust in your unfailing love…” (v 5)

How do we hope when the ball keeps rolling? Answer my own question. Out of something I tell my son these days. “We can hold both sadness and hope at the same time.”

A paradox. Holding both. Something I learned from living in concurrent grief and trauma recovery. Sadness, sorrow, and despair are emotions. But hope? Hope is learned. Practiced. Acquired. What is called a cognitive function.

Holding both, wisdom. Excelled in by the psalmist. Through first naming and listing experiences surrounding pain. Pain, intrusive thoughts, sorrow, abandonment, defeat. This listing, a crying out called lament. Lament defining deep unmet basic needs such as safety. Lament leading to an ask for help called prayer.  “…Give light to my eyes…” (v 3) the psalmist prays.

Then the psalmist shifts. Into recognizing gifts. God’s gifts of “trust,” “unfailing love,” and “salvation.” ( v 5)  Remembering these good gifts, the psalmist builds hope. In a future filled with song and “good“-ness . (v 6)

Yes, we can hold sadness and hope at the same time. Sadness begins a necessary journey in emotional survival. Leading us to act by lamenting. Lament opening us into another act. The act of prayer. For our pain and needs. Leading us into naming the gifts we have already received. Gratitude for these gifts creating a sense of hope from within. Hope living alongside sadness. Sadness, the beginning. Hope, the last word. Together creating a never-ending map for living. One providing ongoing healing balm. Making the ball rolling toward us something we can deal with.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

 

This post also appears at https://compassionatechristianity.org/trauma-recover/

Photo courtesy of Pixabay at http://www.pixabay.com

 

 

 

Faith, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Sitting Lonely

bench-3091078_1920

 

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

Lamentations 1:1

Walking my normal route. On a Sunday afternoon in early spring. Temperature in the fifties. Slightly overcast with sun flitting in and out. Air smelling of trees swelling into resurrected life. And soil. Soil pining to be planted. So much so I must breathe in its scent as breezes brush against my face.

I see no one. No people. No one out. No children playing on the playground.  No families strolling by pushing baby carriages. No runners. No other walkers.

Cars roll by slowly. No longer in a hurry. But not many cars. Cars resting. Found parked in driveways, garages, and along the streets of my neighborhood. As if it is Thanksgiving or Christmas day. Everyone home on forced holiday.

Back home my son reports the store shelves are bare. He returning from stocking up on a few items—toothbrushes, acetaminophen, milk. Tells me this news as we make a list for my grocery run the next day. Writing down what we really need. What we can do without. Thinking ahead for a future we do not understand and cannot predict.

Like most of my friends, I spend time on the phone with loved ones scattered in other places. Feel a need to connect daily now. Check in. But also to help convince or plan. For my oldest to leave Mexico amidst flight cancellations and possible border closings. For my mother to stay south as long as possible instead of coming home to community spread.

When not on the phone or email or text, check the maps. The ones telling me the latest reports. The ones showing the growing numbers. In between checks trying to study, answer emails, read the latest update from seminary, reschedule my life as meetings, events, and deadlines change hourly. All part of my new job as home manager of crisis’ constant change.

The writer of Lamentations imagines or looks out over an empty Jerusalem. After war’s sieges took lives. Captured prisoners. Enemy conquering, creating new reality. Forcing residents to move far away. Emptying a city. Leaving smoldering bits of a recent past. Only seen by those remaining. A desecrated temple. A destroyed way of life.

The prophet looks out over what once was and is no longer. Allows the scene to enter his body. For woe to fill his heart.With scene in mind, heart, and body, calls it like it is. Words allowing the sharing of sorrow with other mourners. “How lonely sits the city…!”

We live in a new form of exile. Not exile like those escaping war or political persecution or famine. Even a pandemic does not compare to these atrocities. Yet there remains a flavor here of exile now. Of being refugees. Even if our camp is in our own home. We are torn away from loved ones, work, friends, activities, faith communities, and school. Separated from routines, predictability, and calm.

So I sit at my kitchen table. Stare out the window. Watch a dog and its person walk across the field. Track their progress. Become aware of my held breath.

Begin to breathe. First in, then out. Again. Again. Deeper. Fuller. Breath reaching behind tired eyes. Loosening jaws. Unfurling forehead. Finding shoulders through collar bones. Down arms into fingers. Belly filling up. Hips letting go. Breath running down silent legs. Into ankles, toes. Eyes closing. Mind blanking. Body breathing into prayer spilling out.

Be present, God. Here. Everywhere. Make your presence known to all. Heal us with holy breath for this day. And tomorrow. And the days already on their way. Strengthen us. For the work to be done. The decisions to be made. The sacrifices we must make for neighbor and stranger and self. Fuel and refuel us with your Spirit each hour, day, week, month. Grow Spirit’s compassion in us. For each other. Amen.

~~~

Scripture quotation from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Image Credit:  Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/gregroose-2823595/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3091078″>Grégory ROOSE</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3091078″>Pixabay</a&gt;

Advent, Christmas, Faith

Another Chance at Adoration

Originally posted on December 14, 2018

glass-window-632313_1920

 

O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him, Christ the LORD!

 

Hymn sung each Christmas Eve in our worship tradition. Words riding on melody soaring up into rafter beams. Organ pulling out celebratory stops. Chords supporting voices in singing as one voice, one body. Some standing in this knowledge. Others in ignorance. All in hope for some inexpressible need.

Together chanting lyrics verse after verse calling for some sort of congregational effort. Text expressing felt want to be near the child. Not only in singing. Walking word by word toward him. Yet as we do, discovering a thin infant. Just having slid through the birth canal. Tiny, discolored, sticky with blood. Face screwed up. Smelling of birth. Hope draining out. Adore this one? Why?

Newborn’s family visiting Bethlehem only under governmental orders. Parents finding no place in homes and hearts of those with doors this night. Citizens blind, but not really, to Mary’s bulging belly. Man at each door saying “no,” while behind him cowers a woman. Scrubbing a pot. Mending a tunic. Silently asking for mercy with each stitch and scour.

Perhaps it is an old crone in the corner at the last door who risks nothing this night. Her  aged bones aching. Sight fading. Fingers gnarling. Tired of justifying the food it takes to keep her alive each day. Her heart in those five tiny mounds below the hill. Perhaps it is this old woman Joseph hears behind the last door’s keeper. In the hanging quiet between his ask and a stranger’s answer. After nervously begging for the seemingly small necessity of shelter. Having come this far in an unwanted journey. Far from home. Far from normal. Joseph scared into defying culture by an angelic, winged, fearsome messenger in the night. Now scared for Mary, himself, and an unknown future. Barely hearing the words uttered from within this place. Delivered in a gravely, high-pitched voice. The old mother making one last admonishment.  “Well go on. Give them the barn at least. Better than digging another grave at dawn.”

Further fear and embarrassment for Joseph serving as midwife just a few hours later.  Relieved when the wife of the place sneaks out with somewhat fresh water and a few rags. Because she can’t sleep after the first birth pangs ring through crystal, clear night. Resonating off her hollow womb while her husband snores, blissfully ignorant of this night’s worth.  Finding Mary moaning. Her hormones surging. Regretting saying “yes,” to that crazy angel. The wife nodding. Understanding the anger of birth pains. Squeezing her hand. Murmuring words of support before hurrying back. Not wanting to be discovered absent from her place.

baby-1531060_1280

Night’s wind seeping in through doorless openings and cracks. Snorts, smells, and stars accompanying birthing howls. Surroundings ringing dissonance into the night. After a final push when all seems so terribly lost, a slim-shouldered, hairy neonate slides to the floor below crouching mother.  Amidst dirty hay and dried animal feces. No harmonic overtones reverberating with cries of new life. The crone at inn’s hearth muttering, “he’ll be cold by morning if we don’t get the mother some broth.”

Waking the oldest girl sleeping nearby. “Take this bowl to the mother,” she orders. Girl obeying. Also curious about the strangers. Thankful for this adventure breaking in on her pre-determined monotony.

It’s the girl who holds the babe while Mary sips. The third to stare at him in awe. Joseph off on hill’s ledge staring into stars. Overwhelmed by what happened. Even though it did not happen to his body. His life never in peril. Remembering Abraham. Knowing he, Joseph, is no patriarch. Feeling more like a pawn.

The girl passes the newborn babe back to Mary. Watches him suckle. Then sleep before creeping back to her pallet. Assuring grandmother all is well this night. Not questioning why this little being should be adored. Her mother having taught her to listen to the wisdom of the body.

Not like us now. Adore him? For what? So we can now fully adore the dirty man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money? And the youths throwing punches or bullets at each other in high school hallways? Adore the family climbing into a life raft and the soldiers pursuing them. Adore the “me too” survivor and her predator. Adore the family member, neighbor, friend whose politics send us spinning? Adore every person in the squad car? Adore the beautiful soul hidden under depths of substance addiction and her dealer or doctor? Adore the dirty, the violent, the undesirable, and all our culture’s un-adorables?

Easier as we exchange presents, trim trees, and gobble up holiday treats to not adore him or anyone. Whirl around in our busyness, forgetting. Leaving this baby under the tree fending for himself. Or placing him in another room where we cannot hear his cries for food. Bury our modern-mixed-with-age-old knowledge of human infant needs under distilled spirits, bigger screens, and business. Blocking out that article we read online recently about how infants experience hunger as true pain. And soiled diapers left unchanged infuse their little bodies with worthlessness. Crying it out teaches lonely individualism not relational well-being.  Prolonged separation from parents creates trauma’s breeding ground for current and future pain. Lack of human interaction causes an all body shut-down called failure-to-thrive.

Maybe this infant is just too much work. Deciding right after the big day while still off work or stuffed with too much merriment to return this child whose reality smacks us in the face. Wrap him in swaddling clothes and lie him in an Amazon Prime box. Affix a preprinted label, and drop him off at the post office. Ask to exchange him for something or someone more to our liking. A gift asking nothing of us. One in which our own internal wrappings stay tightly wound around our souls. Our truths never exposed even to us. Shunning the messenger’s words, “do not be afraid.”

Words heard by Mary long ago. Embraced and in doing so risking her life and future of her unborn child. Holding her heart full with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. Not all comfort and joy. Praising God when really what else can she do? Running away meaning life on the street. Begging for food. Using her disassociated body for survival.  In saying “yes” making a choice to stay. Clasping fear to swelling breasts. Uttering words of praise, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

“Do not be afraid,” heard also by lonely, smelly shepherds staying in fields. Probably because no one else in their little, little, world welcomed them into village or home. Undesirables ostracized into hills. Trusted with necessary function of tending sheep. But out of sight. Out of mind. Found in their hiding by God’s messengers with an invitation into awe. Risking their livelihoods for a chance to adore another human. When so often denied any exchange of humanly love.

We try to ignore these words, “do not be afraid.”  Thinking they cannot possibly be meant for us now. Part of a quaint story told each Advent and Christmastide from long ago. But this hungry, cold, pooping, spitting up, sort-of un-adorable baby somehow breaks through our internal walls anyway. Not with words. But with wails cutting into inner workings of bodies. Dwelling in our hearts. Causing agitation in our nervous systems. Our empty breasts to ache. Our stiff arms to fill with yearning.  So much yearning we must pick up him up. Keep him at arm’s length until his small body melds into ours. Then we sway. Feeling fully alive. Cherishing the moment. Washed with felt love. And his sweet baby smell. Existing together, almost as one. Not fully. Yet needing the other. For different reasons. Need though none-the-less.

What if we were to adore the un-adorable? What then for us? For them? What if we heard their wails, unsounded, emanating from deep within their hearts? What if we understood our need for them. Perhaps greater than their need for us? Would we then leave our sheep, our only way of life, like the shepherds did? Or give up the right to abandon or kill like Joseph? Bring a family to shelter. Sneak food to them in the night? Give them basic human supplies defying cultural expectations?

Our singing this night of all nights is not static. We do not perform a yearly empty ritual before going home to egg nog, a fire, and our annual viewing of Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. These words call us to action.  The lyricist is poetic. But he commands in imperative, “get going!” Go and adore the Christ child alive in all of us and in all others now. Leave wants behind the inn door next to the old crone.  Sing in a choir of earthly messengers to a deaf world.  Answer the cries of the child now with our opening arms. Feed the child now as if our breasts are about to leak milk or our own child’s life depends on it. Support the mother and father now as if we were once penniless. Give shelter to the family now as if we know homelessness. Adore the child now with trembling fear and courage like Mary. And in doing so, see God face-to-face, “now in flesh appearing.”

Merry Christmas.

 

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Notes

All photos courtesy of Pixabay. Glass window by Hanneke Visschers at Pixabay.

O Come, All Ye Faithful, text and music attributed to John Francis Wade.

Scripture quoted from Luke 1:30; 46-47, and Luke 2:10. (NRSV)

Scripture referred to from Matthew 1:19-21 and Luke, 1-2.

 

Faith, Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Minimized: A Healing Meditation

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“For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.” Job 3:24-26 (NRSV)

Meditation

Torment escapes from deep within Job’s body on breath’s exhale. Agony flees inner captivity on long streams of air. Wind erupts in animalistic sounds showing injuries’ truths: dread, disquiet, dis-ease, anxious anticipation. All unseen damage from suffering’s somatic experiences.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar hear Job’s pain. Come in consoling comfort. Observe immense heartbreak. Sit with him in silence. Witness loss, illness, grief, and trauma. No words spoken. Saints sitting with sinful natures.

Until these bystanders can stand Job’s pain no longer. Something spins within. Filling each friend with verbal masses rolling into wounding words. Words interrupting air. Stinging silence. Tearing further into wounded flesh and internal organs. Each feeling sanctioned by God or each other to deem worthiness or un-right-ness. Blame Job in entitled convenience. Forgetting life’s immeasurable unknowns. Making small Job’s collective human losses with narrow visions of the Divine. Asking in word and deed, “’Why should God have time’ for you in all your iniquities?”*

Job’s groaning unmasks these carefully constructed faces of others. Uncovers deeply buried wounds. Unhealed lacerations still oozing with infection. Bacteria to be shared. Using Job as a new host. As these speakers hide behind royal judgments. Old pain towering over recently rendered and suffering peasant.

 

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We who live in trauma’s truth sit with Job in a different way. In shared experience of life after trauma. We learn along with Job that our worlds at home, work, community, and extended family minimize trauma. Our trauma. Their trauma. Anyone’s trauma. Others diminishing it when we are weak in our inabilities to cope or heal. Trivializing trauma’s ravages. Asking in verbal, nonverbal, subtle ways for us to move on. Act healed. Use our trauma for the greater good of a broken world. Because surrounding witnesses name us now as damage experts needing to be sent out on patrol.

But this shrinking behavior of others in the story of Job and in our lives today is not an act of God or earthly king. It is a “that’s their stuff,” moment. An alert to something unhealed in others. Resulting in distancing or dissociating behavior of the supposed helper from our lived, daily, experienced pain. Trauma’s evil alive in others hurling in secondary waves through our hearts, minds, and bodies. Sinner outweighing saint.

We cannot force others to unbury and heal their pain. But we can ask ourselves if we too minimize our own traumas. Wonder if we make smaller what really was. Or hide our traumas away so others don’t feel uncomfortable. Absorb these evils further into our bodies. Send messages out into the world such as “It’s in the past,” and “What’s done is done,” and “It is what it is.”

 

Healing Action

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Fill a piece of paper of any size with one large circle. Leave a little space at the corners of the paper. Inside the circle draw a large heart. Along the outline of the heart write “God, God, God,” over and over again in a chain of words.

Write your name inside the heart. If other people living in your immediate family share your trauma (such as children) write their names on the heart as well.

Between the heart and the outline of the circle write names of people who try to not minimize what happened. They are not perfect or one hundred percent. But consistent in making an effort.

Outside the circle write names of people who are not dependable for you now. They may try. But when they do their unhealed pain lives like a big box of heavy bricks between them and you. “Help me hold my box,” they ask you again and again.

In the farthest corner of the page write names of people or organizations who exited or need to exit your life because of your traumas. These entities add lesions to your internal injuries. Creating circles of additional traumas around you with pricks, pokes, and stabs.

Look at your work. What demands your attention? Are your friends better at being with you than your extended family? Or is it the other way around? A mix? Who surprises you with their ability to not judge or minimize? Where are most of your people, inside or outside your circle?

If you need to, cut away the outside-of-the-circle names for now. Crumple up the scraps. Throw them in the recycling bin. You do not need these people or organizations right now. You don’t need their stuff, crap, or pain. Fire them. Forever. Temporarily. Lay them off. Whatever you need this day. You are in charge.

Lay a finger, one by one, on all remaining names including your own. Breathe as you do so.

Prayer

God holding close my pain, surround me with emotionally fearless people. People whose presence and actions bring healing to me and others. Send them God, quickly. Open my eyes in recognition when these healers come into my world. Help me accept their love. Amen.

_______

*Quote from J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. Published by Houghton Mifflin (1986). Page 119.

~This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

~~Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself.

~~~All images courtesy of Pixabay.