Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guest Writer: Vasily Grossman

     I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man's meaning. 
      Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.

From Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman as quoted in American Fascists by Chris Hedges.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shannon: The Topography of Traumaland #1

In my early adulthood I experienced profound relational abuse. A woman and a man both, at separate times, thrust their violence upon/into me - physically, emotionally and spiritually. The wounds were real, mottled purple and deep. They shattered my psyche and also shattered my illusions about the foresight and protection that I believed my years would provide. Unlike some of those that grew up in traumatic environments I had known health and a strong sense of self. For this I am thankful, and also vexed. I can still remember 'a time before'. Foggily, but enough to give shame extra teeth when it wants them. The harassments of 'what if', 'remember when' and 'I used to be able to' come on very strong sometimes. It can be a sore test of my sore heart. Learning to live can sometimes feel like the soul equivalent of an accident victim's struggle to learn to walk again. Slow, sweaty and plagued by weariness.

However, there's still love. And goodness everywhere, alight in corners. I have learned to stalk these things. They are stronger than evil as light is stronger than darkness and I have been sung to sleep many nights by them. 

Healing is long work and violence so brute and short.


I thought it may be helpful for my friends and colleagues to occasionally hear a first hand account of the journey through the consequences of evil, trauma and abuse. It is certainly helpful for me to tell. For now I will list and unpack phrases that I think describe a bit of what I know to be the world of post-trauma.

For what they're worth, may they bless you and those whose faces you tend.

1| Conflict Vertigo.

ver·ti·go - a dizzying sensation of tilting within stable surroundings or of being in tilting or spinning surroundings.

Before the trauma I had an above average record for initiating, sustaining and surviving conflict with my self intact. I knew when to fight and when to fly. 

After trauma, pervasive dizziness. All conflicts lost their aspect. Like a compass at the north pole I sometimes spin and can't find a point of reference. Mountains blend with valleys and I can't tell if I'm in a war or just a negotiation. I sometimes shout when I should whisper, whisper when I should shout, stay when I should leave. All the while my heart is beating like I am on a building's bare edge far above the hard earth. Though my mind knows otherwise, my heart anticipates violence and I am afraid.

This is a terrible bind. I lose sight of where I'm at and I'm just as likely to wound those that wish to love me as I am to love those that will further wound me. 

2| People as events. 

After trauma it sometimes feels as if each person is a new and large event that needs my attention. They cease to be people and become instead mysterious, intimidating occasions. I feel small and surrounded by giants. I can be acutely aware of even the strangers next to me in Chipotle. I can't give half attention. My heart can get overwhelmed with them as their presence fills up my inner atmosphere. (I think this is what is called in healing parlance 'hyper-vigilance'. I prefer my title. It makes more sense to me.) I get caught up in watching whoever is across from me and I do it intensely. But I'm also watching everything else - with my whole body. It feels natural. It just happens. My radar is always on. I don't think I would have caught this one if it weren't for honest friends asking me why I retreat from social interaction. It exhausts me. I can't forget the person standing behind me, even though I want to. 

There are gifts to be gleaned from this, and I am very grateful for them. My senses have been hewn and activated in such a way that I can see deep drama and character in people that others ignore. I have watched many sparrows in the underbrush. I have a great capacity for awe and gratitude. 

Yet, the curse is there, too. I can't walk through the market with my eyes closed. I often can't retreat into my inner world in social situations. The after-church milling about makes my back sweat.

It is a balancing act, being thankful and lamenting simultaneously. This is where I am at in my healing process. But thank God, I'm truly grateful for some of these costly gifts, the fruit of suffering. Occasionally I'm even thankful for the trauma itself. Is this redemption? I don't know, but if it isn't then the real thing is going to be extraordinary. 

Long before Harry Potter discovered that his Patronus in the fight against evil was the stag the Christian tradition had named it for similar reasons. On old European churches you can still find stonecarved scenes of the stag swallowing a snake. The snake, of course, symbolizes evil. They're both powerful creatures. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Handmade Prayer: Eyes to See

-all creation groans until-
Paul's letter  to the church in Rome

photos: Bill Keay (http://www.keaywildlife.com)
painting: Chagall 'White Crucifixion' 1938


I imagine that one day the whole pressing cluster of lovers and haters will round the body of Christ and take turns kissing his scars, finding finally (and this is hard, indeed) that their many wounds this side of death bore the lip marks of God.


Some Things Will Never Get Better. But They Might Get Kissed.

The gospel can be hard as diamond, painful as fire.

God comes, God does the best he can, God gets himself killed.

Of course, we all know he came back, but only to a few people and then he flew away. Some comeback. What's that they say about comedy and tragedy tangled in the same tree?

I labored a long time under the illusion that a faithful life would eventually be rewarded. Disciplines properly followed would yield abundant earthly rewards. Jesus, a good investment.

This isn't true. This is harder than the truth. Cruel even. Because life doesn't bear it out.

I haven't had many prayers answered. I have been hit. Left. Choked. Tricked.
I have lost gifts, humor, money, mind, friends.
I have cheated, stolen, lied, passed out, woken up to pass out again. Misspelled my lover's name.

The truth is this, some things will never come back.
Discipleship may go from dark to dark to death.

We will experience permanent loss in this life, not eventual gain. This is the gospel we have to tell.
None other.

Even God still has his scars. The bloody lamb opens the book.

Grieve. Remember. Tell stories. You can never go back to it. Whatever it was. A tea cup.

                                                                                                                                       A punchline.


                           A father.

Life can be very long. Let yourself be kissed, one night at a time.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Short Thoughts #6: Drinking like a man.

When I was in Chicago I watched a homeless man down the little cup of communion wine like a shot.

Jerk the head back, open the throat, wait for the buzz.

Thank God I have that memory.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What I saw: Blue collar virtue

The young woman at Value Village, a discount store.

She worked fast behind the counter. Like an octopus she hit price keys, answered the phone and bagged items. And all of this with genuine harried kindness. Her hair was falling out of her ponytail and her cheeks were pink. One would think that this was simply good service. We have been trained to see that way. It was more.

It was blessing and tragedy.

The blessing, of course, was her gifts. She was humble. Her speed on the register keyboard, her double bagging, her price checking. Her breathless courtesy. These were profound gifts of hospitality and humility.

She was trying to make her small space more spacious for me, the stranger.

Blue collar virtue.

It's everywhere and usually presumed upon.

The tragedy is that her beauty and youth were getting used up laying out red carpets on dull linoleum floors. To make ends meet.
For me, just another guy.

She should be out there making the world beautiful with her humility and youth. Stringing red ribbon around sharp corners. Christening wooden boats. Throwing clocks off bridges.

I can't wait until the lion lays down with the lamb and we all have enough to eat and gifts can be shed abroad without fear.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Short Thoughts #5: Listening

I have come to believe that listening is an act of spiritual warfare. Who would have guessed?

Old humble ear. A pathway straight to the heart and no one gives you any credit. They all go for the eye or the tongue or the fingers.

Be patient with the little humble ear, friends. It is a strong lover, fierce and wise.

All around, the strangest things are whispering the name of God. Bad drawings, good songs, pebbles falling back into the ocean, lost footballs, the unexpected jump of a tree, every person that you'll meet, kind and mean.

Of course, we all know this. But it's the forgetting that gets us. This war has been going on a long time.

Don't fret. Cynicism and shame are burned up in the fire of one open and listening heart.

However, I have also learned that listening gets harder and harder the more I commit to doing it. It feels kind of like playing an instrument, skills are bought with sweat, but the best stuff comes after long practice. When I can just let myself go. When I surrender to the absurd hope that all things eventually lead to beauty kissing justice. In front of everyone.


It can be a long 'eventually'. Longer than the best marriage. Hard, too.

The world is full of stopped up ears. Pray for mercy, listen. It is an abomination to evil that one fragile soul would stop, shift and peer into the underbrush, listening like a kind hunter, for the breath of another fragile soul.

There is music everywhere. Be brave.

Something for Someone: Isadora Duncan, the inventor of modern dance (1877-1927)

she was magic incarnate. the wildness of lost punctuation. she broke norms. she broke boundaries. she broke hearts.
apparently, she was killed in a car accident when her scarf, typically long, got tangled around the open wheel. she was pulled down. her neck broke.

awful, i know.

this story is a fierce, sad and strange one, especially for a dancer.

the gravity that she had defied,
then coerced into loving,
then defied again, agile and powerful.
that carried her through the air, at a tenuous peace with her and her legs, arms and lungs and stomach in front of the awe struck world. flashbulbs and all.

that gravity is what took her life.

isadora. what tragedy.

question for god:
why are we often killed by what we love the most?


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Word to live by: Job 38:37

Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? - God

This sentence burns deep in the middle of my little heart. Gerard M. Hopkins filled his diary with descriptions of clouds. The old, absurd poet who scribbled Job, broken and wiser than the other friends, has God come down in a whirlwind and ask these types of questions.
I can't think of anything more severe and beautiful.

Clouds are too soon dying works of art - as unique as any mountain or continent.

Who has the wisdom to count these things? I try.

On my best days I slow down.

I watch the sky and see clouds bloom and disappear knowing that each has a name, and that rarely heard.

Birth and death slowly blowing over our own little births and our own little deaths.
Our little dancefloors, our little hospital rooms.

I guess clouds are icons. They are dramas of the crucified God. Slow beauty explosions that can't last forever on our whirling earth. The winds are simply too strong and the world is such a dry place in need of rain.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Short Thoughts #4: Reality Show Drugs

I, too, have crunked to reality shows. The postmodern colosseum. Daughters and sons that I barely know embroiled in quickly digestible drama. But good drama is never quickly digestible.
I watch them and train my teeth for biting.
This one’s a bitch, that one’s a hero.
Or borderline. Or narcissistic. Or selfish.
And all the while my soul is practicing how to kill with words and find enemies.
My own prayer for mercy forgotten.
How do I stop network editors from becoming my spiritual advisors? How do I resist the urge to hate and label the adolescent adults splayed out across my screen? Vain and bearing, as much as anyone, the image of God.