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Adult Formation - September 19

Series: Adult Classes

Separation and Return: How Grace is Found in Sharing our Story with One Another and Connecting it to Scripture 

We will reflect together on the role of narrative story telling as a means of reengaging with one another and connecting our experience with the narratives of scripture.

We've been through a community experience of separation and return both through the scaffolding event and the global pandemic. While we are still in a process of return, we have likely experienced this in different ways.

  • Last week we remembered the 20th anniversary of 9/11
  • Today is Two Years since the scaffolding event
  • Still in the process of responding to a global pandemic

Remembering and remembrance are central acts of faith practice. Much of scripture is the written account of the people of a particular time remembering who they are in the context of God’s action.

The Eucharist is an important act of remembering who we are after the events of each week.  Whatever our experience we are re-grounded in our identity as followers of Jesus.  We proclaim an identity that is outside the time of our earthly pilgrimage to connect ourselves to the central promise - “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”

That moment when time collapses and we transcend our experience is a moment of anamnesis.  It’s the opposite of amnesia.  It is the undoing of forgetting. We are recalled to a truth that is present in whatever experiences we are having in time, but they are grounded in something timeless.

Why is that important?

  • That interplay between transcendence and the immediacy of our daily life is the essence of cruciform living. We cannot endure the pain of this world if there is not redemption also available to us.
  • We are reminded that our faith takes us through the cross, to holy Saturday, to Easter.
  • It allows us a common connection to one another
    • Scaffolding vs pandemic
  • Part of the restoration of our community life here at St. Mark’s, but in our families, our other communities requires that we tell our stories to one another so that we can create the corporate story of what happened.
  • That is then connected to the longer story of the people of God

It’s important to differentiate between how we think of history vs remembrance

  • Ken Burns documentaries. Civil war and stories of ordinary people vs how we learned history in school?
  • Is dispassionate history even possible??
  • As people of faith is that even relevant or does scripture have something more important to reveal to us
  • Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
  • Myths are not untrue, they tell us something deeply important about who we are
  • Our stories change over time, details are lost to distill what the important message in the story is.
  • What are important family narratives in your past? Do your siblings tell the same ones?  Did they have the same experience?
  • Particularly in fractures events people have different memories
  • After 9/11, only one year later 40% of eyewitnesses who had been interviewed had the same recollection. Even to the point of remembering themselves being in different locations with different people.

Does this challenge what we think we know about remembrance?

  • Enter our own remembrance and those of other with a posture of humility
  • Need to listen for the story underneath the story rather than correcting errors
  • Ask what the goal of our common story is? Is it to ultimately build a sense of connection and resilience rather than a factual accounting?

Much of this class will draw from the work of Serene Jones, a theologian at Union Seminary. She wrote a book 15 years ago about Trauma and Grace. She started out as a holocaust researcher and wanted to make sense of how people tell stories of that which is unspeakable. Her description of trauma and how we seek healing was relevant to our experience of this pandemic. Not everyone has experienced all aspects of what she defines as trauma, but enough of it is relevant to provide a framework for some of our experience. More importantly to me though than the trauma emphasis, is how the language of faith, the cross, resurrection, and grace give us a path forward.

How does our language of faith help us?

Despite our “knowledge” that we will die, the reality is we spend a lot of time and energy in denial of this fact.  “When we experience the possibility of annihilation, our brains simply can’t take it in and process it as they do everyday events. A space gets created, but it isn’t blank.  That space holds horrendous things that affect people’s entire bodies, the way they move and exist in the world.  How do we bring this black space into verbal expression and public awareness so it can become part of our corporate story?”

As Christians we are familiar with this pattern.

  • Deeply embedded in the scandal of the cross
  • Who are we if this is what our Messiah looks like?
  • We saw the initial response of the disciples in the days following the crucifixion, they are completely fragmented and undone
  • Was Thomas a “doubter” or someone who couldn’t hear the news of other eyewitness until he experienced it himself?

Helpful to also think about both primary trauma, but also secondary trauma.  (9/11)

Compassion fatigue (current health workers)

Violence to our souls can take many forms, and so one question we will continue to grapple with is how God comes to us in those moments.

God hopefully helps us interrupt the cycle of trauma.  The hardest thing for people who have experience trauma is interrupting the pattern.  Part of telling your story is being able to tell it in a way that imagines a space beyond that story.

Our tradition understands the grace of God as something that comes to us from outside. It is the story of love interrupting violence to that there is a new way forward.

The resurrection is like a portrait of this grace, because it’s so clear in the resurrection that the love of God comes into the midst of violence and is not undone by it, but creates another story.

Different than making Jesus a martyr in the traditional sense.  Jesus wasn’t asking to be tortured to demonstrate his faithfulness to God.  It about the persistence of his love for us despite the horror and pain of his death.

Two theological claims are held in tension as we do this work with one another. 

  • We live in a world profoundly broken by violence and marred by the hard we inflict on one another
  • God loves this world and desires that suffering be met by hope, love, and grace

The challenge is how to discern how this divine desire to love and heal can be spoke and lived out, concretely in the life of faith at work in the world. 

What is Trauma? Many definitions and it is perhaps overused to describe all manner of things. Some of these may or may not relate to your experience, but its been helpful framework.

  • Ancient Greek word for trauma means a wound or injury influenced by an act of violence
  • To be traumatized means to be slashed or struck down by a hostile external force that threatens to destroy you.
  • Contemporary study extends this beyond just physical wounds and acknowledges we carry many of these in our vast interior worlds.

Central features of Trauma according to clinical psychologists Bessel van der Kolk and Judith Herman help us distinguish between what we experience as trauma and just day to day annoyances or difficulties of life.

  • “A traumatic event is one in which a person of persons perceives themselves or others as threatened by an external force that seeks to annihilate them and against which they are unable to resist and which overwhelms their capacity to cope.”
    • They are different because of their order of magnitude, they don’t merely make us feel uncomfortable, or even profoundly sad or grief stricken - they include fear of annihilation
    • It is traumatic for someone only when it is internally subjectively experienced as such. (So we might have the same experience and not both be traumatized by it.)
    • Subjective experience of potential annihilation is usually grounded in a real event of some sort, although one’s memory of it can, at times be unstable.
    • Events can be traumatic for those who aren’t their immediate victims but nearby witnesses.
    • Events can befall both individuals and communities, villages and nations, single families and whole regions
    • Not necessarily limited to one time occurrences, they can be repeated events of a low-intensity (domestic abuse)
    • Traumatic events are “overwhelming” in that we experience them as inescapable and unmanageable.

Some responses (PTSD)

  • Excessively vigilant with monitoring their external environments
  • Feelings of numbness and emotional or cognitive decline
  • Acute anxiety and sleeplessness
  • May suffer from an unarticulated compulsion to repeat the event in different ways
  • Loss of diminishment of both memory and routine language use
  • Loss of agency and feelings of powerlessness
  • Isolation from others and their primary communities of affection and care.
  • Lack of energy or optimism can make it hard to sustain relationships

State of Rupture and Disorder

Beauty and power of faith and liturgy is it provides comfort, beauty and order, which can help restore imagination

Music, prayer, meditation can center us in the midst of so much disruption. Nature also

Healing imagination through reflection and encounter with scripture.

“A Christianly formed imagination tells stories about people who are agents in their own lives, with God-given grace to act, moving through embodied history in time, connected to their past and the stories of others who came before them and looks forward in hope to a flourishing future.”

“If grace has the power to reshape the imagination, then theology is the language that both describes that power and evokes it in the lives of people by selling grace filled stories of new imaginings.”

Preacher: Rev. Beth Knowlton

September 19, 2021

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