Epiphany 4: Deut: 18:15-20 and Mark 1:21-28
I sent my Dad a postcard from Czechoslovakia in early November of 1989. A friend and I had just crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. Uniformed and armed soldiers entered the train at the border with sub-machine guns and required our passports and to turn our US and German currency into Czech notes.
A day in Prague convinced me that the Communist Government was about to fall. Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” blared from loudspeakers at the end of the beautiful Charles bridge that crossed the Vtlava River and led to the Presidential Palace, the seat of the Communist regime and St Vitas Cathedral
Later that night in a café on Wenceslaus Square, a quartet also played “Blowin’ in the Wind”. With these two synchronistic events and casual conversations with Czech and Slovak citizens, I wrote on a postcard to my stepfather, the son of Lithuanian immigrants:
I’m in Czechoslovakia. Soon the government here will collapse. Lithuania will be next…”
I bought a Czech stamp, stuck it on the card and mailed it. The card was delivered.
While I was still in Czechoslovakia the Berlin Wall came down and within ten days of mailing the postcard the Communist government had collapsed. Call it prophecy or a good guess, sometimes the voices are so loud you can’t help but hear. Lithuania came later than predicted.
I was teaching a Psychology I class at a Junior College. I needed a subject to demonstrate Pavlov’s stimulus-response. A soldier about 5’ 8”, a Vietnam Vet, offered himself. I asked him for a word that he thought would have meaning for him. He chose the word “Kill”. Nervous, I asked the class to slowly and repeatedly say the word: Kill. The little soldier began to respond with what must have been Post Traumatic Stress. He made thrusting movements as if he was hitting someone on the ground with the butt of his rifle or his bayonet. I was chagrined at what I had provoked. “The young man is completely consumed with memories of killing,” I thought.
The only thing I could think to do to stop the cycle of his reaction was to reach out to him and put my arms around him. The little soldier stopped, returned my embrace and in front of the class the two of us wept .
At the end of the semester, he and his wife, who was also in the class, gave me a plastic statue of Snoopy in graduation cap with the inscription, “Best Teacher Ever.”
It is my most prized award.
I’d bet you Jesus did a lot of holding and weeping.
Comment on the story: As I retold the events to my wife, I choked back the tears. It was a combination of the memory of the risk I had taken with the young soldier and the class. It was also a time; a beginning of what I hoped was healing for the young man and me. The brief time of weeping was a breakthrough into the horror of killing and the weeping for the killed and those who have to live with the memory of their faces. For me it was a reminder of the terrible cost to our young and not so young that we send into war. Sometimes the road to healing is the loving embrace and the shared veil of tears.
At the end it’s all up to the Holy Spirit. I’m sure there are others who would have handled this situation with greater wisdom and skill.
By the way, there is a temple in Capernaum. It is not the original temple that scripture recalls, but one built two or three centuries or more later. It’s a great place to step away from the noise and meditate.
Penelope Andrade in her book, Emotional Healing RX, says there are basically four strong emotions: glad sad, mad and scared. These emotions can be experienced in a space of three to five minutes through shaking, crying, shouting, etc. After the initial burst of emotional energy comes a moment of calm. The body has worked to release its various “spirits”.
I know that this is true for me. Unless one gives herself permission to weep or rage or shake or cry or rejoice one hasn’t let the body do the work of healing and moving out of and beyond the hurt or harm or fear. When it comes to gladness, even here we need not have to try to repeat, over and over, those moments when we were in an ecstasy of joy.
I think of these reactions: sad, glad, mad and scared as tapes (remember them?) that play in our memory bodies when we are in stressful situations. The tape starts playing and we are brought back to the original unhealed situation or memory. A lot of the time instead of flight or fight when intense conflict arises, many freeze.
Sometimes the hurt, like the little soldier, will take many sessions. And yet playing the same tape over and over, massaging it for all its worth, does little to help. Try then these short times of emotional expression, pause and reflect. Then go for a walk. Over time such work has proven to be better for healing than to dwell in the memory for too long.
See if you can find a wise guide to let you do some of the emotional work of release from trauma. Or if your trust has been broken, as that may have been for the deranged man in the temple: Let Christ or your loving divine embrace you while you weep. Try not to waste your time in ruminations. It doesn’t work except to lead to the old tapes playing over and over again.