Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
– Psalm 90.13-14 (NRSV)
Yesterday, wonderful clergy colleague Ron Patterson mentioned several times that congregations are experiencing PTSD — Post-traumatic Stress Disorder — affected by the pandemic, insurrection, systemic racism, and not knowing whether the Delta variant will knock us out of in-person worship again. (We are certainly better prepared this year!)
Thomas Hübl refers to “collective trauma” as a harrowing event that a large group experiences together. Currently, he says, “there are two phenomena: a very stressful current situation, like COVID-19, or the climate crisis, which is already intensifying. But these events meet in all of our shared history, which I refer to as the unintegrated parts of our shared past” [interview with the Harvard Gazette, Dec. 2020]. I don’t know that many white Americans have fully integrated our shared history of white privilege or that many of us expected vituperative American politics to lead to the January 6 insurrection. Those unintegrated pieces of our collective experience intensify our current trauma that play out in our own lives and the life of our community and culture.
He says that this collision results in a perfect storm of sorts. “When we look at a trauma there are two major sets of symptoms: One is hyperactivity, which comes with a tremendous amount of stress and reactivity, and the other one is numbness and indifference.” I don’t know about you, but I have had both reactions: stress and withdrawal into numbness.
I find that my mind will perseverate if left alone without human contact: it will spin in some less-healthy ways and distort reality.
I’ve asked myself what can ameliorate the situation. Even though I am an introvert, I have found that getting out our narrow family orbit helps. Being together helps. When I see you at church on a Sunday, it helps me to have hope that there is a world with great people in it and that I am not alone.
How about you? Have you had an experience lately when you’ve found stress and reactivity causing you to respond in ways that are not helpful? Maybe overreacting to an annoyance? Maybe eating or drinking more than is normal? Perhaps you tend to go the other direction and withdraw from difficult situations and give up making a difference. (And sometimes a retreat from the barrage of broadcast news is a healthy shift!)
One of the items in our spiritual toolkit as a way to respond to collective trauma is lament. Psalm 90 is a collective plea to God to hear our trauma and the grief that derives from it. It is okay to use the imperative voice with God and ask the Deity to turn around and listen to us!
Haven’t we been through enough, God? Are you listening to our cries of loneliness, exhaustion, frustration, stress, and despair? Give us a break and have some compassion on us! Enough plague and pestilence already! Give us a break!
Our tradition allows us to have a good, solid rant with God. What do you need to say right now? Are you ready to ask Yahweh to lighten the burden?
This psalm doesn’t leave the lament as the final word. Being angry with God can be a helpful stop along the way of faith, but it’s a lousy and unhealthy final destination. We get to move on and into envisioning what is next for us as Beloved Community. We come together to sing, pray, praise God for her steadfast love, which always is there for us after a time of trial, or even a time of collective trauma.
One of the reasons we have Jubilee Sunday every year is to come back together after the separation of summertime travels and recreation and to offer God thanks and praise as a community. Community can lift at least a bit of the fog of trauma and grief as we come together (either in person or on livestream) and be in worship together. It won’t fix everything, but it might leave you with just enough light, hope, and peace to see you through. Enough of those positive experiences snowball into new ways of thinking, believing, behaving, and being. Positive shifts in our outlook are possible, and with God all things are possible.
Join us this Jubilee Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00 for your spiritual booster shot. Together, we will heal and move toward wholeness as Beloved Community.
Wishing you deep peace,
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.