Healing from Trauma

Reading My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, by Resmaa Menakem and Pr.14A

This week I read Part I of My Grandmother’s Hands.  Menakem writes that we all carry the burden of trauma: our own, our family’s and even our ancestors’. In America, the color of our skin can give rise to trauma in different ways. He talks about black trauma, white trauma and blue (police) trauma.

When we are traumatized, we may be physically and emotionally compromised. We may be hyperalert, reacting to perceived threats instinctively. Reflexively. Before we can think about the severity of the threat or the intensity of our response. The way a misplaced hand flies off a hot stove. Fast. As fast as the white cop shot 12 year-old Tamir Rice. Because personal survival seemed to be at stake.

Menakem’s thesis explain why anti-racism education and DEI[1] programs haven’t done more to fix American racism.  Racialized trauma doesn’t get better because we think better thoughts. It can only get better when we address the trauma where it is: like all trauma, not in our minds, but in our bodies.

At the end of last week, I felt I needed to read something uplifting.  I found it in Menakem’s book because he says that trauma is not the last word. It can be a lifelong condition. It can be passed down through family, DNA and culture. It can become embedded in societies, laws and institutions. But it can also be identified, addressed and healed. Even a small amount of healing makes a difference. When we do the work that leads to healing we “create a little extra room in our nervous system for flow, for resilience, for coherence, for growth, and, above all, for possibility. (Grandmother’s Hands at 12.)

I was delighted to see that this Sunday’s gospel is a resurrection story[2].  This story of Jesus walking on the water is usually called a “miracle story.” A closer look reveals the pattern of a Resurrection story: the disciples are in community (gathered in an upper room or on the beach or in a boat), a stranger appears (on the road to Emmaus, in the garden near the tomb, cooking breakfast on the beach), and eventually the stranger is recognized.

The Risen One appeared to traumatized people: people who had to standby helplessly while a loved one was arrested, humiliated, tortured and killed. The point of the resurrection stories is not what Jesus or the Risen One does: it is what happens to the traumatized disciples. Here, Peter moves. He gets out of the boat and tries to walk on water. He sinks, but he doesn’t drown and the Risen One speaks encouraging words: you just needed a little more faith. Keep trying.

Healing doesn’t happen all at once writes Menakem.  “Healing and growth take place on a continuum, with innumerable points between utter brokenness and total health. If this book moves you even a step or two in the direction of healing, it will make an important difference.” (Grandmother’s Hands at 12.)

That was the encouragement I needed to hear.

Image by Chad Krusenstjerna from Pixabay

[1] Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

[2] Thank you Philip Jenkins at Anxious Bench (2014.)

Easter 1B – Resurrection

John 20:1-18

Sometimes we go looking for things that should be easy to find. We trust we will find them because we know what they look like:  Our car keys. Our phones. The eggs we decorated for the Easter egg hunt.

Other things we look for are more problematic. It’s hard to trust we will find them because we are not so sure what they look like: peace, forgiveness, love. The best way to find these things, of course, is not to look for them, but to focus on doing the things that are important to us: the right things, the just things, the merciful things. The things that bring us joy and move us to wonder.

There used to be a grade school science project using paper cups, seeds and some dirt. You fill the paper cups with dirt and put seeds in the dirt. Add a little water and set the paper cups on a window sill where they will be in the sunlight. And nothing happens.  For days, nothing happens. Pretty soon everyone forgets about the paper cups.

One day someone notices that something has happened. In one paper cup, a green stem has started to curl its way out of the dirt. The next day, more of the cups have sprouted.  Soon, in that first cup, the curl breaks free of the dirt and a green plant starts growing straight up, drinking in the sun. Clearly alive.

What changed the small, dry, dead seed into a living, growing, green plant? How did that happen, and when?  How could we have not have noticed such an amazing transformation? Did it happen quietly?  Had we been sitting right there in class when it happened? Had we not noticed because we were busy with fractions and times tables? Or had it made a noise that we didn’t hear because we weren’t there. We were home doing chores, playing, eating dinner, sleeping.  It is impossible to know.

Resurrection is one of those things we hope for, even though we know very little about what it looks like or how it happens.  Mary hoped for the resurrection. Trusting there would be resurrection was a part of her religious tradition. She knew that Jesus had raised Lazarus, but now Jesus was dead. It was hard to know what that meant.

Mary hoped for the resurrection, but that morning in the garden she was busy simply doing the right thing, the just thing, the merciful thing.  She was looking for Jesus’ body, to anoint it for burial. 

She did not find Jesus’ body. She found a gardener.

We don’t know exactly when the resurrection happened.  Maybe it happened quietly. Maybe it happened when no one was there. We don’t know when it was, or how it was that Jesus’ dead body disappeared and Risen One emerged.  

We don’t know and we don’t need to know. It’s not up to us to find the resurrection.

The story of Mary and the gardener tells us that resurrection will happen whether we notice it or not. It is for us to hope and trust and then get on with doing the right things, the just things, the merciful things. The things that bring us joy and move us to wonder. The Risen One will find us.  


Photo by Alin Luna on Unsplash


Dear Readers,

I am taking a few weeks off to enjoy some spring yard work and do some reading. See you soon. Happy Easter to all!