As I write this, thousands of people are dealing with the aftermath of yesterday’s tornado. They are sorting through debris looking for material pieces of their lives that can be salvaged, filing claims and reports, replacing ID and clothes and cars, missing school and work, figuring out where they are going to live and what they’re going to eat, helping their neighbors and friends and family, and so many other post-disaster tasks which too many of you know too well.
What these people, and maybe you are one of them, are experiencing is trauma. This congregation knows trauma well, especially these last few years, from the winter storm, the pandemic, the hurricane, the sudden death of a minister, and more. And more and more research is being done on trauma – what it is, how it impacts us, and how it can be healed. I recently read a book called What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey. The book is set up as a dialog between Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry and is a fairly quick read. I highly recommend it. A key takeaway from this, and other research, is that the most important question we can ask, especially during the initial aftermath, is “What happened to you?” This is the time for people to begin to tell their stories, to begin to process the trauma. When we experience trauma, it is kind of like our emotions get “clogged up” in the brainstem. Telling the story first can help begin to de-clog our feelings so we can get to a place of understanding and healing. This is why it is so important for congregations like this one to learn to tell their stories, especially during an interim period.
And it is why it is so important, when we are doing the work of right relationship, to remember that we don’t always know the whole of another’s story. When we encounter difficult or puzzling behavior, whether at church, or at home, or out in the world, we can remind ourselves that trauma is one of a myriad of possible explanations. We can keep our minds and hearts open to a more empathetic and gently curious kind of response. Remembering we don’t know what we don’t know helps us get further along on the path of building beloved community.
With hope for a better tomorrow,