One of my favourite Easter stories from the Gospels comes in the twentieth chapter of John’s Gospel where the Risen Lord appears to a group of disciples in a locked room (John 20:19–23). As well as pronouncing the benediction of peace, the Gospel writer tells us that Christ voluntarily showed them the marks of his personal trauma (he showed them his hands and his side). The Risen Christ reminds his closest disciples that he is the one who has passed through unspeakable suffering, the brutalisation of terror, and the excruciating pain of a state–sponsored execution. Here is a profound theological truth – brutalisation and trauma have been absorbed into the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for through the gift of the incarnation Christ becomes subject to the whole spectrum of human experience – the scars have not been erased but through the transformation of grace they have been transfigured and can be borne peaceably by the Risen Christ. He is the one who can offer hope, peace, and new beginnings to a group of disciples who have experienced the collective trauma of grief and loss. The invitation for them is to worship, love, and follow the traumatised and risen Christ and to find the spiritual resources to transcend their fear, to live peaceably with their loss and to find the foundations for hopeful living in the world.
Some recent reading has proved to be invaluable for my own understanding of both the prevalence and the severity of trauma. In his ground–breaking book entitled The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explores the reality of modern–day trauma and its deleterious effects upon the architecture of the brain, the landscape of the emotions and the physicality of the human body. One of the key findings of this work is that trauma (whether physical, emotional, or otherwise) leaves a lasting imprint upon the body – physically, mentally, and emotionally, hence the title of the book! It has been a difficult but valuable read and I would commend it to anyone who wants to understand the complexity of trauma – whether that be our own or that which we observe in others we know. As adoptive parents, Jean, and I, know something of the reality of living alongside two children who live with the daily struggle of overcoming the past and trying to live well and hopefully in the world. It is a
lifelong struggle of healing and transformation.
In the light of this recent experience, I am schooling myself in prayer and worship to approach Christ traumatised and Risen and in doing so I am reminding myself that the reality of modern–day trauma, in all its variety and severity, is held and contained within the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not to minimise or deny the devastating effects of trauma for sufferers, their families and future generations – after all the marks of suffering remain – the body keeps the score – but it is to place this painful reality into the larger narrative of God’s love for the world and to find the resources to live beyond fear, to live more peaceably with our wounds, and to find hope and courage for living well in a complex world.
I hope and pray that each one of us will receive the benediction of divine peace amid our joy and sorrow, our hope and fear, our life and death.
With every blessing for Eastertide,