In the past few decades we’ve seen significant advances in our understanding of and treatment for trauma. Bessel van der Kolk is a leading figure in the field. So in a recent podcast Krista Tippett asked him to talk about how we should deal with the trauma that is 2021. His answer was instructive.
This is not a trauma. It’s an ongoing challenge.
You see, a trauma is something that happened in the past. Its impact upon us was so severe that we keep reliving it in ways that distort and disrupt our experience of the present.
By contrast, we’re dealing with an unstable, unpredictable, disorienting present. As he put it, “The world is much more unsafe and unclear, and we don’t know who’s on our side, who’s not on our side, who’s telling the truth, who’s not telling the truth.”
Things seem to be falling apart around us. For some of us it feels like the end of the world. And as it turns out Jesus has a lot to say about what we should make of such times and how to navigate them. Only, it might not be quite what you expected.
In essence he says, “Life is messy. Always. Lean in. You’ll never get it all cleaned up and it’s going to leave a mark. But I’ll be with you.”
For instance, he and his friends were gazing at the temple. Jesus told them that one day this amazing example of architecture, this monument to their faith and anchor for their common life, would be nothing more than a heap of rubble. In short, chaos is coming. (Mark 13:1-8)
They asked him when this would happen. But instead of giving them a calendar date, Jesus taught them a lesson about hope and the messiness of life.
He told them, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.”
Then he said, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” In other words, only the end of the world is the end of the world. And as far as you’re concerned, every situation you face is a beginning. You and I can always start love’s healing, liberating, reconciling work right here. Right now.
Jesus is painfully honest. Life is an imperfect gift. Wonderful and wretched things happen. “It is what it is.” Only, that’s not where he stops. He says, “It is what it is. Now what are you going to do about it?”
Hope begins by squarely facing reality: It is what it is. But we are capable of doing more than merely acknowledging, passively accepting, or blindly reacting to the contours and dynamics of the world we inhabit. This is where the “now what” of Jesus comes in for us. We have the radical freedom to choose to love.
Jesus makes our freedom to choose love especially clear in one of his most counterintuitive teachings: love your enemy. Again and again we will encounter people who use coercion, violence, and domination to make a better place for themselves in the world at the expense of others.
It’s tempting to hit back. Fight fire with fire. By contrast, Jesus teaches us to inhabit this planet in a fundamentally different way. We can refuse to be enemies even, and especially, with those who insist on seeing us as their enemy.
Instead, we can choose to actualize our true selves as the image of God. God is love. So when we love, it is God’s love pouring into us, saturating us, and overflowing from within us.
Love is how the living God is present with us and in us. Love gives us hope. Keeps us going through even our darkest moments. And makes this messy life worth living.
Here’s a partial list of upcoming events:
This Saturday (11/13) I’ll be talking in-person with a Book Group from Horseshoe United Church, Alexandria.
Next month I’ll be leading a retreat and preaching at St. James Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge.
In January I’ll be leading a retreat and preaching at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Boca Grande.
February will find me leading a retreat for the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac in Wisconsin.
If you don’t see your event no worries. This is only meant to be a sample.
My calendar for 2022 still has some space for events. Contact my EA Holly Windham if you’re interested in scheduling something via Zoom or in-person. Her email is email@example.com.
A portion of this essay was drawn from Looking for God in Messy Places: A Book about Hope (Chapter 2, “The Power of Love,” pp.17-18). You can learn more, read reviews, and grab a copy here or order from your favorite local bookseller.