Rev. Catharine Is Currently
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The False Banality of Trauma

The False Banality of Trauma

(Not in the mood for more painful things this week? By all means scroll down…)

I find it difficult to write to you this week, not because there are not things to write about, but because I am unsure how to write about them. I am unsure how to broach the topic that is the elephant in the room, the topic that is uppermost in my mind, the topic about which I want to say nothing.

As you probably know, I am active on Facebook, and much of my ministry for The Way of the River happens in that medium. And last week, Facebook seemed to me a boiling cauldron of people’s feelings and opinions. The Kavanaugh hearings, and Dr. Ford’s testimony, in particular, brought out tremendous tenderness, fury, numbness, and sadness all over the place. Some people chose to watch the hearings, or even felt that they must. Others didn’t. Others read about them, or watched clips of them, but didn’t watch the hearings in full.

I think there are good reasons for all those choices. I know I was on a swinging pendulum from outrage and fury to numbness and disbelief.

woman with sad face, lipstick on, sparks shooting out from her

Images, in particular, were difficult for me to take in in manageable ways. The images of Kavanagh’s rage–what, in a woman, would certainly have been called hysteria–to a stylized image of what the Devil’s Triangle really is… each time I saw one of these things, it felt…it felt not as though I was being revictimized in ways I had in the past, but as some new injury. Something terrible. A yawning maw, full of teeth, threatening to devour my faith in the goodness of men, even the ones I know. Even the ones I love. That faith, that love was threatened.

And, of course, so many of the people with whom I work, comrades at The Way of the River, Ministerial Fellowship Candidates, friends, the children of friends, so many people were going through retraumatization.

Trauma is not Banal

The word “trauma” is so common now that I think people may be forgetting what it means. Or they may not have ever known, and are only able to piece together an image that they get from hearing the word over and over.

Trauma is violation. It is stealing away a part of a person’s self. That’s why both survivors of seual assault and veterans show similar symptoms of trauma. In both cases, something has been stolen from them, something that can never be returned or regrown.

Trauma affects your sense of time and sequence, your memory, your sense of safety alone or in company, your ability of concentrate, and sometimes the overall “thickness of your skin.” Trauma survivors develop all kinds of coping mechanisms from armor to breakdown, and we’ve seen them all over the place in these last weeks.

We know that trauma–this theft, violation, assault–lives in the body. The Body Keeps the Score is a brilliant, if often difficult to read, account of how the physiology of trauma works. And it lives in the body, long after the traumatic event has ended.

A therapist friend of mine said that she had not seen one single client in a week who did not mention the hearings. They mentioned them in different ways, but they all mentioned them. Anyone of her acquaintance who knew about the hearings was affected by them in one way or another. I think that’s true for me too.

And we want to turn away from it.

woman with face in hands, looking unhappy

We want to turn away from the fact that it is entirely likely another Supreme Court Justice of the United States will have been shown to be a sexual predator and a perjurer. We want to turn away from the fact that people of every gender, but especially women, moving down the street in every city, are concerned for their safety. Not just their physical safety, but the safety of their souls, that is, the safety of their sense of self.

Can We Look at It?

There are a few, though, and I read some work by one of them this week, who are looking straight into that chasm of horrifying reality, and not looking away. There are a few brave, fierce, clear-eyed souls who are doing it. And I hope those of us who can, will follow their example.

And I hope that those of us who feel the weight of it all is too much, who look away, who don’t ask, who don’t respond, or who don’t watch…I don’t dare hope that we will become “that strength which once we were.” What I hope for us is that we can find spaces where we can feel brave.

Not “safe spaces,” ‘cause really, in this life, what is that?! But “brave spaces,” spaces where we find we can move one bit of ourselves further toward wholeness, whatever that means for each of us.

May we each move more and more toward alignment with our deepest, wisest selves. These are the selves that care for ourselves and care for others with persistence, with gentleness, yes, and with determination, resistance, and courage.

May we each find our way through the morass to our wisest selves. May we find one another in love and care. May all our hearts be well.

All my love-


And, though of this is going on, I also want to include an announcement that is much more fun, more joy-giving that all of the above. Many things exist at once…

The Happy Phantoms of Hallowe’en

I’m thinking of the old song by Tori Amos about the Happy Phantom. Her delighted little (in that song) voice, singing, “I’ll be a happy phantom” was an anthem of sorts for friends of mine when it came out. It reminded us of a playful vision of the dead, and appealed to our near-Goth aesthetic. It was macabre, sure, but allowed for smiles and playfulness.

Sometimes, those of us who celebrate Samhain forget that it’s not only the last gasp of harvest, a time to consider the winter coming on fast, and somber silence as we eat with our Mighty Dead. Our own personal phantoms… It’s also the time of dancing skeletons, people at least as dedicated to Hallowe’en decorations as others are to Yuletide festooned trees, and most of all, Trick of Treat! (For that matter, it’s also, in Mexican traditions, the time of marigolds and sugar skulls, of another kind of party.)

But Trick or Treat underline that in some mysterious way, we know that ancestors and descendants are inextricably linked. That the children who come dressed as fairy princesses, superheroes, and imaginary friends are the youngest leaders in the procession. Behind them are adults who follow with their own bacchanalian diversions. The drag queens living it up on stage. The partiers. The zombies driving by, the truly scary haunted houses, and the horror movie marathons.

And then behind all of us, through the veil, come dancing the dead, sometimes as authors have imagined them on their silvery horses with shadowy pennants. Sometimes in our dreams or waking thoughts. And sometimes we just welcome to the party!

So on the 28th of October, 7 pm Eastern/4 pm Pacific, we welcome all of us, living, dead, and not yet come into this world, to the party. We will meet in the nearly leafless grove made by hands clasped through the ether, on a Zoom call. The ceremony is still taking shape, but I know that anyone who comes with a mask or a painted face (think liquid eyeliner, if that’s what you’ve got!) gets extra bonus sparkle points!


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