In Memory of Thich Nhat Hahn

This blog is reposted in honor of a great man whose writings greatly enhanced my spiritual journey.

My spiritual journey has brought me into the presence of many great men and women. Some I met only through their writings. Such a one is Thich Nhat Hanh.

My journey has also been greatly enriched by coming in contact with other traditions. My initial exposure to Buddhism came through Alan Watts’ The Book as well as Salvador Minuchin’s metaphor of family therapist as samurai warrior. I have read much of Buddhism since then, especially Zen. But none have touched my mind and heart in the way that Thich Nhat Hanh has.

Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has devoted his life to living peace and to helping others live in peace. His own journey has caused him to be expelled from his homeland, to serve at the Paris peace talks and to be nominated for the Noble Peace prize by Martin Luther King. In the name of peace, he has encouraged and written about dialogue among different faith traditions. As such, two of his books have had a deep effect on me — Living Buddha, Living Christ and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. Both works explore the common ground of both traditions.

Nhat Hanh’s thoughts help me embrace other traditions when he writes: “I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit. We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions.” Yet he also challenges me to embrace my own Catholicism when he says: “Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions.” Thus he challenges me to be open to what I can learn from other walks while at the same time to embrace the jewels of my Catholicism.

Buddhism has helped me in numerous ways. The concept of attachment and detachment helps to face my anxieties and to see how my control issues bring on my own suffering. The central place of mindfulness challenges me daily to pay attention and to listen not just in the therapy room but on my ride to and from work, at the dinner I share with my wife, even as I watch my Boston Redsox. Buddhism in many ways gives me a whole other understanding of the central AA concept “Let go and let God.” Finally, Buddhism is one of the few traditions that shares commong ground with Jungian psychology.

Even today as I was thinking of his impact on me, I read a small book by Nhat Hanh titled Be Still and Know. First I read “In Buddhism, our source of energy is faith in daily practice. Faith in an idea (his emphasis) is risky.” Thus what matters if I claim to be Christian is how I practice that every day, not so much the underlying theology or what I say I believe.

Later he writes: “If you stick to an idea or image of God and do not touch the reality of God, one day you will be plunged into the abyss of doubt.” This helps me to see there is a part of me that still clings to the God of my childhood and that once again (as a therapist told me long ago) I must allow my faith to grow up, just as St. Paul wrote when he said; “When I was a child, I spoke as a child. Now that I have become a man, I must put away childish things.”

The irony is not lost. By embracing the writings of a Vietnamese Buddhist, I may actually become clearer on what it means to be a Christian.

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On Being a Cafeteria Catholic

“Cafeteria Catholic” is a disparaging term used by some to refer to Catholics who allegedly “pick and choose” from Catholic teaching and practice. The undercurrent is that we pick and choose based on comfort and convenience.

Well, I have a different view of “Cafeteria Catholic” and am proud to count myself among their number. I love much about my Catholic faith but do in fact take issue with some teachings and do in fact have issues with the Catholic Church.

William James pointed out that there are two levels of faith. Secondary faith is based primarily on what others have told us to believe. It is the type of faith that many of us experienced growing up Catholic. I learned about Catholicism primarily from the Baltimore Catechism, a document that we were required to memorize. Not analyze but memorize. God was real because Father (and to a degree Sister) told us so. It was not OK to question and certainly not OK to challenge.

Primary faith is based on direct experience. Thus, primary faith includes:

  1. the results of my own examination and reflection on Catholic teaching;
  2. the results of my own reading of and thoughts on the Bible;
  3. my own direct experiences of God and spiritual reality.

My transition to primary faith occurred in a high school religion class. One day our teacher Father FitzPatrick had us teenage boys open the Baltimore Catechism (Adolescent version!) to the section on the sixth commandment and specifically the section on “impure acts”, i.e., masturbation. The question focused on the effects of “impure acts” and the consequences were terrible, ranging from physical damage to insanity. Surprisingly, warts were not listed. In any case, Father then advised us to “take all that with a grain of salt.” He was encouraging us to question the Baltimore Catechism! Thus began my journey to Cafeteria Catholicism.

My views of many spiritual issues have changed as a result. I rejected a faith based on guilt and fear. I rejected Catholic doctrine on certain issues such as birth control and divorce. I studied other religions, all of which have enriched my journey. I found God outside the Church in places such as Yosemite and the Chicago Art Institute.

I have also taken issue with my Church, especially with their handling of the clergy abuse issue. This has gotten me judged so being a Cafeteria Catholic does not come without risks. I also take issue with my Church’s treatment of women and continue to see Church hierarchy as drawn to elitism and sexism.

And yet I still call myself Catholic. During the pandemic shutdown, I missed Mass or, more specifically, I missed Eucharist. Catholicism is one of the few Western religions that embraces mysticism. I have known some extraordinary Catholics to include priests and sisters. I treasure certain saints. I found that I missed much about my Catholicism during the pandemic.

So I will continue to search and to question. I will continue to be open to spiritual insights from sources beyond Catholic ones. I will continue to question and challenge my Church. I will pray for a genuine rebirth of my Church.

And I will continue to attend Mass but it won’t be out of fear or guilt.

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Heroes: Buck O’Neil

Buck O'Neil elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame Kansas City News -  Bally Sports

I continue to have great admiration and respect for men who played in the Negro Leagues. Deprived of the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues, these men pursued their passion in all kinds of adverse circumstances. Some, such as Satchel Paige, made some money. Most played because of a love of the game. For me, no one reflects that love of the game as much as John “Buck” O’Neil.

Buck O’Neil grew up in Florida, the grandson of a Mandingo tribesman brought to the States as a slave. Buck faced early discrimination in that his hometown did not allow African American students to attend the local high school so he had to attend an out-of-town school.

Starting at age 12, he played baseball as a first baseman. Eventually he was signed by the Memphis RedSox of one of the Negro Leagues and was then sold to the Kansas City Monarchs where he spent the majority of his career as both player and manager. He became the first African American scout, working for the Chicago Cubs and signing among others future Hall of Famer Lou Brock. He also founded the Negro League Museum in Kansas City.

Buck came to my attention as well as the nation’s through Ken Burns’ PBS documentary series Baseball. Buck’s passion for baseball as well as his great pride in the Negro Leagues was apparent and won the hearts of many. He never minimized the challenges and hardships of being a black man trying to have a career in baseball. As he says in his autobiography, he realized early on that Major League baseball was “a white man’s game” that was not open to him. But he did not appear to have become bitter, focusing instead on his joy of the game and having had the privilege of knowing and playing ball with some of the greatest baseball players to ever grace a field. He stands as a beacon to me of the power of rising above adversity and reminds me of how blessed are those who have the gift of enthusiasm.

In 2006, with Buck’s encouragement and involvement, 17 members of the Negro Leagues were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Buck was not among them. But his comment at that time reflects the qualities that endear him to me and thousands of others:

“God’s been good to me. They didn’t think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that’s the way it is, so we’re going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.”

Buck O’Neil died in 2006. This year he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor well past due.

If you never seen it, watch Ken Burns’ baseball documentary and enjoy Buck. Should your travels take you to Kansas City, don’t miss the Negro League Museum. Enjoy Buck’s autobiography I Was Right On Time.

Here then is the great Buck O’Neil (don’t click the arrow. Click the “Watch on Youtube”:

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The Meaning of Christmas

It is that time of year for lights and shopping and multiple reruns of “A Christmas Story”. It is also that time of year when we hear various critics say “We have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.” So I found myself thinking this morning “What IS the true meaning of Christmas?”

For many, it is a time of reminders of painful moments. Soldiers with memories of combat during Christmastime. Traumatized persons recalling times of family violence in the midst of alcohol abuse. One woman, for example, recalls her father in a drunken rage losing his balance, knocking over the Christmas tree, then blaming everyone else for the disaster. Many veterans recall C-rations for Christmas dinner. For me, Christmastime includes the reminders that both parents and one sister died during December.

Christians attach great meaning to the birth of Jesus and indeed it is a wonderful story with great drama. I always was intrigued by the Three Wise Men and would look forward to the annual television presentation of “Amahl and the Night Visitors”. But I continue to struggle with the notion of Redemption that, for many, provides the answer to the meaning of Christmas. Oh, I understand what it means to be redeemed as do most of us who are recovering alcoholics and addicts. But how this relates to the birth of Jesus eludes me. I do, however, get it that somehow something about His birth has to do with hope. And just as the movie Shawshank Redemption says “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” Lord knows we all need hope these days.

Christmas, too, seems to be about giving. The meaning of Christmas surely can’t be found in “stuff”. But this points me toward a story that reflects my own understanding of the meaning of Christmas. It’s a story I’ve told before but good stories are worth retelling, right?

My mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer on December 7. Ironically it was my father’s birthday. She was 81 years old and elected not to pursue chemotherapy. As such, I went back to Pennsylvania to spend some time with her.

One day, a week before Christmas, I walked into her hospital room and she said “What are you still doing here?” I explained I wasn’t leaving until the next day and she asked “Isn’t today Christmas?” I clarified for her that it was still a week away. That’s when I got the clue. “Mom, are you trying to stay alive through Christmas?” “Of course I am!” she said. “I don’t want to spoil everyone’s Christmas.” This was consistent with the manner in which she had lived her life for others. I tried to tell her that she didn’t have to do that, that I didn’t want to see her suffer, and so on. But my mother was as stubborn as they come.

My mother slipped into a coma the day before Christmas but was still with us. So on Christmas night, I called the hospital and asked the nurse to thank my mother and tell her we’d had a good Christmas, hoping that, even in a coma, she’d hear those words. She died on December 28.

Can we choose our time of death? I don’t know but I do know stories of persons who kept going until something had been accomplished. So my mother, in dialogue with her Lord, had been given that option and kept herself going so my family could enjoy Christmas. That final act of loving captures for me the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you all and may you have insight into your own meaning of Christmas.

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Further Thoughts on Sacred Music

On my run this morning, I listened to a version of “Simple Gifts” from Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Springtime. I had the thought that, just as sacred places for me are not necessarily related to churches, so it is with music. There are pieces of music that touch me deeply and give me a sense of God’s presence. What occurred to me this morning was that many of those pieces have nothing to do with church.

You might object, saying that “Simple Gifts” is based on a Shaker hymn and you would be right. But I came to know that beautiful piece through Aaron Copeland’s symphony, not through a church.

There are other pieces of music that seem to give me a glimmer of the Divine.

I first encountered “Jupiter” from Gustav Holst’s Planets when I was back East spending time with my mother just prior to her death. There was something about “Jupiter” that captured that moment for me. My mother faced her death with stoicism and faith, a truly wondrous event to witness. The music of “Jupiter” captured the grandeur of that moment.

I first heard the second movement of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony on a PBS series America hosted by Alistair Cook. Cook shared with us the inspiration for that piece coming from Dvorak’s moment of encounter with the great prairies of the U.S. Midwest. Since then, that piece has often played in my head when I encounter some wondrous part of nature. When I encountered El Capitan at Yosemite, I heard that piece. When I came to a beach in Southeast Ireland near the Skelligs and saw that the beach was untouched, I felt Dvorak’s music with me.

My encounters with the ocean always bring to mind Claud Debussey’s Clair de Lune. Granted, Debussey has another piece titled Le Mer but Clair de Lune for me captures the peacefulness of waves washing the beach with perhaps a fog horn in the distance.

Finally, though I hate war and all it has done to us, I have to admit that my heart soars with the ending of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, fireworks, cannons, and all.

I stand in awe that God gives us so many avenues through which we can experience His/Her magnificence. For me, great musical works are one of those avenues.

REFLECTION: Are there any pieces of non-church music that speak to you of God?

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The Long Thanksgiving Dinner 2021

The Long Thanksgiving Dinner Revisited

I thought I would repost this slightly revised piece. As for all of us, more loved ones have passed through the black curtain this year. Yet they will all be there, gathered together in spirit. I am greatful for them all.

Posted on November 19, 2020 by richp45198

In the past, I have written about Thornton Wilder’s beautiful one act play “The Long Christmas Dinner” in which the life cycle of a family is portrayed over an imagined dinner in which persons come in through a white birth curtain and leave through a black curtain.

For me, that table is set at Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. I can see generations gathered about that table. Many have gone through the Black Curtain, some quite suddenly, some way too young.

One of my sisters never even makes it to the table. She comes to the table and leaves immediately through the Black Curtain. My other sister sits for only a moment, then also leaves.

But I also see many loved ones who sat at that table many times. My parents and my brother are there. Although she is aged, my Mom leaves the table quickly while my father takes a long slow walk to the Black Curtain.

I see old Aunt Margaret, she who was in Paris when Lindbergh landed. She who saw Babe Ruth play baseball (“Clumsiest man I ever saw!”). She who, in her 90s, gave me the finest anti-war sentiment I ever heard as she shook her head and said “So many young men.”

There are my Uncle Gaddy and Aunt Peg, my surrogate grandparents. I never sat at the table with my grandmothers. They had walked through the Black Curtain before I walked through the white one.. My grandfathers were also gone by the time I was 7. So these two wonderful people filled a great void — Gaddy with his burly Irish accent, the smell of cigars about him and Peg, maker of the World’s Greatest Peanut Butter cookies.

Aunt Mary is there, she who was schizophrenic, carrying on a constant patter of self-talk or reading romance novels.

I see too my Uncle Joe and Aunt Kathleen. She was sophisticated and helped John F. Kennedy carry the vote in Rhode Island. He was a veteran of the South Pacific, down-to-earth, smoking a cigarette as he was dying of lung cancer. Among many things, he helped me love the Redsox.

I see my Aunt Dorothy, my father’s only sibling. She who never married and the day after she retired, quit drinking, packed up and moved to California to be closer to my brother, leaving behind a stunning example of courage.

This year for many there will be more empty chairs. For some those absences will reflect the ravages of COVID. For others, absence will be due to restrictions such as closed borders. Even the numbers allowed at tables will officially be limited.

And yet, as I gather with my family, I will pause to be grateful for the many wonderful people, friends and family alike, who have gathered at my Thanksgiving table in person or in spirit. As always, others who were present in the past have slowly or quickly left the table for the black curtain. Yet all who grace and have graced that table will be present. We will join hands in gratitude and in hope, remembering especially this year the words from Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Fathers in Films

Following up on an earlier piece I wrote on Mothers in Movies, I thought a piece on fathers would be appropriate. I found it a little more challenging. Fathers are often portrayed as either extremely idealized, as buffoons, or as downright mean. Thankfully there are some beautiful exceptions.

In Friendly Persuasion, Gary Cooper portrays the head of a Quaker family facing the realities of the Civil War. His son struggles with the principles of his religion while his father strives to live those principles in the face of the temptation to set them aside. This scene portrays his confrontation not only with a Confederate sniper but with the temptation to set his beliefs aside.

In A River Runs Through It, Tom Skerrit beautifully portrays a father of principle. He is a minister — reserved, emotions under control. Occasionally his love of his sons peeks through with an affectionate gesture. Sadly, he becomes a father who must face the bad choices of one son — choices that lead to his son’s death. Yet even in that tragedy, he tries to find meaning, as seen in this scene where he draws upon his grief to offer some profound thoughts.

Personally I like the Dad in A Christmas Story. He is real. He cusses (“In the heat of battle my father wore a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know is still hanging over Lake Michigan”). He works to take care of his family. He is seen as a disciplinarian (“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”) But he also brings the gift of enthusiasm to his family as reflected in the Major Award of a leg lamp but even moreso in the surprise he provides for his son Ralphie.

Finally there is the father who provided me with a role model when I became a young father at age 24. Atticus Finch may be a little idealized but for me he provided the possibility that a father could be a disciplinarian but could also be patient and loving. This scene with Scout reflects that delicate balance.

In my own journey, I related most to the film I Never Sang for My Father which portrays an imperfect relationship between an emotionally wounded father and a son who vacillates between wanting his father’s love and approval and being very angry at him. It is from this play and movie that I first heard the line “Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship.” And I relate to the closing line: “But when I hear the word ‘father’ somehow it matters.”

Reflection: Are there any works of art, movie or otherwise, that you relate to regarding fathers?

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On Being Shanty Irish

Some years ago in a long-forgotten novel, I came across the term “Shanty Irish”. It referred to a certain discomfort one might have in the presence of wealth. Shanty Irish refers to those Irish immigrants who, in Ireland or in the States, lived in shanties. Up near Honesdale PA on a back road I once saw such a shanty. It was my great grandfather’s house upon his arrival here from Ireland. Similarly, in Scranton my roots lie in an area of Scranton once known as The Patch. This was an area where coal miners and their families lived. My grandfather was The Patch’s barber. He and two of my uncles were volunteer firemen in the Patch.

I was not poor growing up. But we were not rich either. I suppose we were lower middle class. All my relatives were blue collar workers. A fireman. A coal miner. A truck driver. My father worked as a claims adjuster at a trucking company. Before that, among other things, he had delivered milk. My other grandfather worked for the railroad. I believe there was only one friend who might have been “rich”.

A right of passage in that culture was not Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah. It was being allowed to sit with the men and drink. That happened to me at my cousin’s wedding. My uncle Gaddy (the fireman) asked me “Richie, go get me a whiskey.” Then he paused and said “Get yourself something to drink too.” And he didn’t mean soda! It was a big deal when I sat with my uncle and my father drinking. It meant they viewed me as a man.

I grew up with an expectation that I would work during summers and Christmas. As such, I had jobs working in a paint factory, working in a plastics factory, selling clothes (style and taste in clothing was definitely not one of my strengths!), working in a bar, and my personal favorite, being a mailman.

With these roots, I was never comfortable around people of wealth. Actually, my discomfort was around people who grew up wealthy. Years ago, my secretary came to me and said “There’s an old man out there who wants to talk to you. He says he’s a millionaire and is starting a new series of stores here in El Paso. I went to say hello and encountered an older man in shirtsleeves. He was down-to-earth and very personable. He said he ran a national string of stores and was starting a new one in El Paso. He made a point to tell me that he believed in doing the hard work himself and that’s why he was going around to businesses himself. The store he was promoting was Sam’s Club. His name was Sam Walton.

Here in El Paso I’ve known people of wealth with whom I am at ease. They are all people of “shanty Irish”-type backgrounds. Locally, their roots are not in coal towns but in Segundo Barrio, a poor part of El Paso. They rose up from the streets and, through effort and courage, became successful. Lawyers. Doctors. Architects. To a person, they have not forgotten their barrio roots and are not ashamed of those roots.

In time, I too have become proud of my Shanty Irish roots. Those roots and those people taught me the importance of family and providing for one’s family. They taught me the value of hard work. They taught me the power of dreams, which for some ranged from getting out of the mines and into a better job to sending one’s children to college. They did not feel entitled in any way and to a person had a great sense of gratitude for whatever they were able to earn.

I am grateful to them all, those men and women of simple background who worked hard and helped me get to where I am. I can now say with pride “Yes, I’m Shanty Irish from The Patch!”

Reflection: Do you have any types of experience similar to my Shanty Irish journey?

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On Grief

“I must go down to the seas again. . .” (John Masefield)

    Some years ago,  my Aunt Dorothy died during the middle of the night. She lived alone in Santa Monica but my brother lived in nearby Marina del Rey. My aunt was a person who lived a life of simplicity, who loved music, and who had a generous heart. I flew out to Los Angeles so that I could help my brother go through her things and clean out her apartment.

     Everyone at some time needs to inventory the belongings of a loved one who has died. There are objects without a story. My aunt, for instance, had letters and pictures from persons whom neither I nor my brother knew. There were objects which bring a lost connection back with an unexpected force. Hanging from my aunt’s ceiling was a Southwestern style bell we had given her the previous Christmas. And there are bits and pieces of things which give insight into a person’s character. My aunt had an impressive collection of Native American literature and was educated and sympathetic in this area long before it became fashionable. She also had her music.

     When someone dies as suddenly as my aunt did, those who follow find evidence of a life interrupted — books partially read, perhaps the one she was reading left open; a particular piece of music left in a tape player; a bill set out next to a checkbook. Projects never to be finished. It gives one pause. How often I set something out for tomorrow, all the while assuming I have a tomorrow?

     She wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered on the ocean. There was a time when Catholics were not allowed cremation. Too much like hell, I suppose. But then Catholic cemeteries started to fill up so the rule was changed. Somehow for my aunt it was more appropriate. It certainly was more catholic because she now has returned to the universe and is a part of its rhythms.

     When I went to Marina del Rey, I stayed at a motel about a mile from the beach. This meant that I would first run a good mile to get to the beach and a mile to get back. Once at the beach, I removed my running shoes and ran along the ocean’s edge. It is what I called my Homage to Chariots of Fire. After running a mile or two, I would stop then walk back the way I came, picking up a sockful of shells and, at some point, stopping to sit on a rock. It was at those moments that I sensed my aunt’s presence in the ocean’s rhythm. Something universal is in that sound and my aunt is a part of it.

     When I left California a few days later, I thought I had done all the correct things as far as grieving is concerned. I thought I was finished mourning. I now know better

     Grief like the ocean comes in waves and often, like a wave much larger than we thought, nearly knocks us off our feet. The initial anguish passes and we think we are done. Then a piece of music, a smell, a passing reference and the wave hits us again. In my case, the wave came from, of all things, the TV show Magnum P.I.

     You may remember that show and the fact that it had two final seasons. The first one appeared to end with Magnum’s death. The public outcry was so strong that a second final season was created with a much happier ending.

     In any case, I was watching the first final episode which included a John Denver song “Looking For Space”. Each time the song played, I felt a welling up of emotion. ‘This is crazy” I thought. But the emotion continued into the next day until I finally realized that my grief over Aunt Dorothy was not finished and that I had merely stuffed it away, only to have it triggered by John Denver and Thomas Magnum.

Four years after my aunt died, I was at the rock-perching meditation part of my run. I was thinking about my aunt and her music. It suddenly dawned on me that she had never heard my daughter play the French horn, something that would have been a source of great joy for her. That thought brought on an unexpected wave of grieving. Later I thought “It’s four years, for goodness sake.” But so it goes. Grieving never stops.

REFLECTION: What have you learned about grief?

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The Spiritual Side of PTSD

I was talking to a young combat veteran yesterday. When I asked him if he’d received any counseling he said “Well, I’ve been talking to my pastor.” This was a reminder to me of the spiritual side of PTSD as a factor in both cause and healing.

Many persons who suffer from PTSD suffer spiritually, a dimension of trauma that is not always addressed. The most obvious form of spiritual impact I have seen is with survivors of clergy abuse. These men and women put their trust in a religious professional only to have that trust twisted and shattered. Most (though not all) Catholic survivors of clergy abuse left the Church, feeling betrayed not only by the perpetrator but by other clergy who looked the other way. One man I dealt with had a deep resentment toward the cardinal of Boston who allowed a perpetrator to be transferred to El Paso where his abusive pattern just continued. Others simply couldn’t trust anyone in the church. A few rejected religion completely.

Three spiritual facets of trauma may be a part of a person’s struggle to heal. Those facets are forgiveness of self, survivor guilt, and anger with god.

I remember a veteran some years ago who was Catholic but did not believe he could attend Mass. When I asked why, he said quit simply “I have killed”. I tried to help him see that he could find forgiveness through the Mass and Eucharist. He responded “I can’t take Communion. I’ve sinned!”

I’ve heard similar thoughts from other survivors of trauma. One women had not attended Mass for years because she experienced some physical pleasure when being molested by a neighbor. Another felt she had sinned when she applauded upon hearing that a relative who had molested her had died.

Many survivors of trauma, then, need to find some way to forgive themselves, even if you or I believe they did nothing wrong.

Survivors of certain types of trauma survivors may feel guilt that they survived and someone else didn’t. I have dealt with survivors of car accidents, survivors of mass shootings, combat veterans and many others who lost a friend, battle buddy, or beloved family member in an event they survived. Some may ask “Why did God let me survive and not him/her?”

Finally, many survivors of trauma are left with the why question. Why did this happen? Why did God let this happen? As one woman who had survived severe physical and sexual abuse “Where was God when these things were happening?” Another said “Jesus supposedly loved children. Where the hell was he when my step-father was raping me?”

Unfortunately I have also heard some very bad spiritual advice such as “Well, God didn’t let him kill you” or the even more troublesome “God must have let you live for a reason” Still others have heard “Well, you just need to forgive the driver of the other car, the man who raped you, the person who set off that car bomb, etc., etc.” Sadly, I have heard of religious professionals advising someone (usually a woman) to stay in an abusive relationship because “God doesn’t permit divorce”.

And yet I have also sat with many, many survivors of trauma who found comfort and healing in their religious and spiritual beliefs. I think of a woman who lost her husband at the El Paso Walmart shootings and who finds great comfort at Mass. I think of a survivor of clergy abuse who turned to art to help himself heal. I have talked with persons who may not understand where God was at the time of the trauma but who feel strongly God’s presence in their efforts to heal. As one survivor of childhood abuse said, “I don’t know why God allowed that to happen but I know He is walking with me as I heal.” The faith of many survivors of trauma may not offer answers but definitely offers them a resource for healing and comfort.

I suppose it is no surprise that many of the trauma survivors I’ve known, whether religious or otherwise, find great comfort in the words penned by another survivor of trauma. David survived combat, the loss of a much loved friend, and the attacks of his former mentor. Thus, his words came from a heart that knew trauma:

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me.” Amen to that.

Reflection: 1. What have your own experiences been, personal or otherwise, with the spiritual side of trauma.?

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