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.)