The way forward requires faith and courage.
interpreted by Deborah, based on the NRSV
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth should change, though the mountains shatter, though the oceans roar and foam, though the ground shakes with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
The people are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; God whispers and the earth melts into His embrace. The Lord of creation is with us; the Eternal One is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what destruction He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease across the planet; He routs the armies, crushes the plots, casts the weapons into the fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the people, I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the Eternal One is our refuge.
Last week my computer died. It was a sudden, unexpected passing; before my eyes, steadily and irreversibly, its power drained away. Then all was darkness. And silence. And distress.
Ordinarily I’m pretty good in a crisis; sturdy, calm, reliable. Accidents, injuries, and illnesses have been a part of my life and ministry — people tend to call on clergy when the awful and the unexpected happens, and my mother’s lengthy illness and my husband’s bout with lymphoma kept me on my toes. But this was different.
It was a small thing, really; no matter what was wrong, the unit could either be repaired or replaced. I knew that. And yet ….
I felt overwhelmed; swallowed up by a terrible sense of helplessness. My fingers trembled as I searched for the service center contact information and the serial number of my computer. I flailed and fumed and fussed and paced the floor. I was a mess.
In the end all was well. The repair people were kind and efficient, my computer was returned in fighting trim. I’m ok, it’s ok.
But it was a close thing.
This is not an exaggeration; it isn’t a joke. And it is clear that I am not alone in this.
Caught up in a mystery wrapped in an enigma, confounded by riddles throughout these past months, we know nothing for certain. Tossed by swirling storms of ever-changing predictions, promises, political maneuvering, and press releases, we are adrift. Nothing is assured, no one is safe.
As the days and weeks go on, our stress levels have increased, and our coping skills have grown weak and weary from much use. We’ve adapted, we’ve adjusted — and readjusted, and now even small disruptions can throw us into confusion and distress.
It has become a way of life, this hyper-vigilance. We are ceaselessly on the alert for information: tuned in and turned on to a constant data steam. We are in overload; dazed, exhausted, numb. It is not healthy. It is not humane. It is not helpful.
We human beings are designed to take particular note of dangers — and to respond to them: this is an important survival skill, beginning from the age of sabertooth tigers and into the way we live today. Imagine you are driving down the road…. suddenly a car pulls out from a side street: instantly you see it and take immediate evasive action. For a few moments afterward you are still on the alert: heartbeat rapid, pupils dilated, adrenalin whooshing through your bloodstream…. then, the danger past, your body and brain return to normal. Farther along this same drive you may pass green hillsides, see blooming gardens, hear birds singing… but these pleasant experiences pose no risk, and therefore go largely unnoticed.
Scary stuff gets our attention more than nice, non-threatening things do. That’s a fact of life. People who sell — insurance, alarm systems, allergy medications, news — figured this out a long time ago:
“If it bleeds, it leads.”
Winding us up, stressing us out, goading us into panic is simply an effective business practice. It’s nothing personal. We’re just so many numbers: ratings, demographics, advertising revenue.
Pleasant stories, signs of hope, comfort and joy — what ought to be part of our normal state of mind — are distinctly unexciting, and so are ignored, or relegated to the bottom of the news. Meanwhile, our souls and spirits, bodies and minds cry for peace, but there is no peace.
The path to good health begins with honesty. We need to recognize that we are all trauma survivors.
Similar to those who have been abused or assaulted, and soldiers who have been on the battlefield, people across our planet have endured (ongoing) potential danger; the threat of an unseen enemy, the sense of being constantly under siege — with the attendant “mortar fire” of ceaseless reporting of terrors, real and imagined. It is stressful in the extreme, and not at all conducive to good human health and sanity.
While some folks appear to emerge unscathed from such experiences, able to return to life as it was with no ill effects, they are the minority. PTSD can take various forms, sometimes subtle, sometimes not: difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep, lack of motivation, relationship problems, personality changes, mild confusion, unprovoked anger or emotional outbursts, temptation to self-harm… The list is long, the symptoms potentially lethal — and we are all at risk.
Equally, we are resilient: a fact of our nature that must not be forgotten or overlooked.
Human beings are survivors. If there is one thing the Scriptures prove — even to nonbelievers, it is the remarkable resilience, renewal, and restoration of human life and hope. No matter how bleak the situation, how dire the threats, people continue not only to survive, but to thrive. Also, for “those with eyes to see,” it is apparent that people of faith are the ones most likely to go forth with courage: to rebuild, to restore, to strengthen and uplift one another.
The way forward is rarely easy, and isn’t always immediately successful. (Remember the Israelites in the desert, and what a tough time they had!)
A particularly insidious aspect of PTSD is the notion that nobody cares or could understand — which feeds on the isolation that has been inflicted on people across the planet. In the undisturbed echo chambers of our minds, we are tempted to believe that everyone else is doing just fine; that we are misfits: fragile, useless weirdos who cannot cope — or that our needs and concerns would be burdens to others … and we’re just not all that important, anyway. If all that sounds familiar, welcome to a large community. You are not alone. You are not crazy. And you most assuredly matter: your thoughts, your feelings, your cares and concerns are important.
A violent storm came up, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep. So they woke Him and said,“Lord, don’t You care that we are perishing?” Then Jesus arose and chastised the wind and the sea: “Silence!” He commanded, “Be still!” And the wind died down, and it was perfectly calm. “Why are you so afraid?” He asked, “Do you still have no faith?”
~ Mark 8:37-40; Luke 8:23-25; Matthew 8:24-26
“Don’t You care, O Lord, that we are perishing?” It is the question of the heartbroken and despairing, the frightened and hopeless: Are we so unimportant, so insignificant, that not even God cares about us? And to this Jesus responds: “After all that I have said and done in God’s name, how can you doubt that you are infinitely precious?”
In our stress and exhaustion, weary from enduring many weeks in the storm, we may begin to doubt God’s love for us. It can seem as if we are lost at sea; as if we are on our own, without help or guidance — we are tempted to strike off on our own, to seek comfort from sources that will only lead us further into confusion or despair. Instead, we need to silence the sound and the fury:
Be still and know that God is.
Be at peace, and know that you are loved and cherished beyond all imagining. Do not be goaded by terrors, but take inspiration from beauty and joy. Look to the Lord, and do not be afraid.
The peace, hope, and joy of the Lord be with you abundantly,
Take time to be still and become aware of God’s great love for you, and remember to pay attention to the beautiful and the good. Look to the future with holy optimism and faith.
We are all trauma survivors. Be kind to yourself and to others. If you need help, ask for it — don’t hesitate.
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