Transforming Historical Harms
For many of us, there are many memories that come with anxiety. As we approach the anniversary of September 11, 2001, many of us and many of those around us will remember the traumagenic losses that occurred that day; particularly the loss of life and loss of a sense of security. In the days following 9/11, some of us learned more about the role of our government’s foreign policy and so there was also a loss of our identity as members of a purely good and benevolent nation.
Trauma and loss impact each individual differently. People act, feel, and think differently in response to circumstances of being overwhelmed or helpless in the face of threat, loss of life, or shattered identity. In society and in our congregations, however, there are often prescribed expectations about the ways we should think, feel, or act. In the early days after 9/11, expressions and displays of increased patriotism were expected and any expression of disapproval of our own government was discouraged or even punished. Certain expressions of grief and fear, including the heightened suspicion of foreigners of a particular type were also expected. If you did not perform your trauma responses in the communally sanctioned ways, you too could have been ostracized, and in the worst cases, vilified or attacked.
When we fear our ability to perform our trauma responses in ways that others approve, this adds to the anxiety that we carry. Finally, different people have different time frames for processing grief and loss. If someone needs more time, give more time; and if someone is ‘done with it’, they shouldn’t be required to continue grieving or processing for the sake of form, function, or to satisfy community standards.
Sometimes, to ensure that people grieve or perform in “acceptable ways” and to teach our children both history and how they can properly acknowledge that history, we establish rituals (remembrance services), set up structures (memorials) and even transform systems (i.e. holidays). But because trauma impacts us differently, there is a need to allow individuals to heal in their own ways and at their own pace. The collective response to trauma and loss that is a healing response is to establish space, containers, and freedom for people to express in their own way and in their own time.
What Can Congregations do?
In our congregations and communities, some have suffered personal and communal losses that were far more impactful in their lives and have more enduring personal affects than 9/11. They also need space and time. They have anniversaries as well. The work of the congregation and community of faith is to create welcoming containers and non-judgmental spaces to hold each person in response to grief and loss and to allow them to process in their own way. When families experience loss we hold them as a unit and as individuals recognizing the anxieties will be different even when the cause is the same. When the entire community experiences loss, the work of congregational leaders is to create such containers for the entire community of faith and then to hold the container and be present; not with rituals, requirements, or expectations, but with love, grace, hope and patience.
How this is done will be explored more fully at our training in Atlanta, Leading Congregations Through Anxious Times (Oct 22nd – Oct 24th).
I do hope you will join us.