I’ve been improving my EMDR skills and enjoying the process of helping people install “safe places” to which they can return when the trauma they are processing feels overwhelming. We also imagine nurturing, wise, or protective people who can be called upon to help in the lonely process of bringing up dreadful past experiences — trauma stuck in the deep parts of the brain and then inexplicably triggered and replayed as if they were happening in the present. Feeling safe is strangely uncommon, it seems. Welcoming new feelings of being nurtured, helped or protected, or imagining those feelings if they are hard to recall, can be very useful for healing.
The wonder of being saved
It is not easy to be healed. Many people have despaired for a long time of ever being saved from what troubles them. When we watched The Whale the other day, Brendan Fraser’s character really did not want to be saved. And his long lost daughter did not want to be saved by him. The rain-drenched missionary who came in with salvation was soundly berated. Even after the unexpected forgiveness of his parents came through, he was still vilified. The movie is like Captain Ahab pursuing the whale of personal meaning and Moby Dick tangling him up in his own futility.
The lessons of the movie made me wonder what people are learning these days. If The Whale is indicative, they can’t be saved and they can’t save. But they don’t have the resources to save themselves. All they can do is avoid the pain hard, even when they thirst for meaning. Trauma therapists all over the world are working overtime to get some tools into their hands. Quite often their collaboration saves them. Just don’t tell the philosophers of the day such a thing is happening.
As the movie ended, I had to stop and thank God for saving me. For some reason, from an early age, I never thought it was reasonable to think I could save myself. The numbers just did not add up – what was required overwhelmed that with which I was equipped. Just before I typed that sentence a person texted me and reminded me of a lunch we had 20 years ago, which I completely do not remember — don’t even have a face. But they buzzed in to connect because of a piece of advice I gave them when they were in college. They never forgot that, given the way they work, they would never have faith if they just approached it intellectually. They needed the grace of God in Jesus.
I had to stop and thank God for saving me. I was reminded that the skills I am teaching people to help unravel the trauma that ties them up are skills I was taught by God and his people long before I knew about EMDR, or psychotherapy for that matter. As I remembered all the ways God has provided me safety and security, I came up with something of a memoir of the riches of faith I’ve received. I keep seeing how they not only work in conjunction with psychotherapy, they work much deeper. So often they have been blessing me long before I become aware of them.
The ways of being saved
I thank God for the healing presence of compassionate psychotherapists. I am grateful even when they act like they discover things God-fearing people have always known, then codify them like they belong to science, and then sell them. They encourage me to see what I have been given in new ways as they repackage old truths that are new to their clients. I’ve learned so many of their lists of “tools” I decided to make one of my own. These some of are the ways I have been saved and I am being saved.
Breathing – Deliberate breathing/mindfulness is central to reducing anxiety and becoming attentive to our capacity to develop. It may have been Father Keating who opened up this practice to me. Now, every day, I spend some time centering and opening my heart by first attending to my breathing. At this point, I am usually sensing my place in God’s presence as soon as I intentionally inhale.
Imagining – I love how EMDR practices require people to use their renewed imagination as a tool for overcoming their trouble. That was a central element of my prayer in my thirties when I needed to be healed and encouraged to grow.
Recalling people, places, experiences – People overcoming trauma search their souls for anything that can be a resource. Sometimes they have drops of water in the desert and it has to be enough for now. When I look back on my life of faith there are hundreds of people to call on, living and dead, who have made my way sure, I am even confident about the future! I have countless experiences of faith, hope and love to call on. It is all an amazing collection of riches.
Wildly good ways
I decided to list ways of being saved because even some of my spiritual direction clients do not know about them. And really, why would they? The atmosphere in which we live gives birth to movies like The Whale in which people are stuck, stuck, stuck and defending their right to be hopeless and self-destructive. But even now, there are wildly good ways to exprerience the life beyond our ways.
My place: Tomorrow I will sit down in the chair in which I pray, study and meditate and enjoy God’s presence. Maybe I will decide to taken my kneeling bench out and kneel before my icon wall where significant art and symbols come around me like nurturing, wise friends and teachers.
Beads: At some point I may take up my new Anglican prayer beads and pray through my own “rosary,” remembering family, friends and clients.
Journal: At some point I will take out my journal, note my thanks, note the signs of God in the past day as well as acknowledge my sins and then ponder the events and challenges of the new day with God. I might sing.
Direction: Last week I visited my spiritual director and had the benefit of a kind mirror questioning my story and pulling me toward the guidance he could see. I also enjoyed the company of men in my new spiritual direction group as they inspired me with their sincerity and vulnerability.
Retreat: This week I hope to take a retreat. These experiences are central disciplines that have marked my life in the Spirit for decades. Dedicated time alone with God gives me space to hear and rest and hope in new directions. Part of what I will do is remember what has happened during the last quarter and see how I have been accompanied.
Church meetings: Being part of the church meetings and enjoying group worship used to be my central weekly discipline as well as a way to appreciate the historic Christian calendar. I am in between congregations at the moment. But slowly, much larger ways to be the church as well as much smaller ways are proving satisfying.
My brief listing of the riches of my life in the Spirit is hardly about all my accomplishments. I made the effort to show up, of course, but mostly I responded to the whispers and wooing of God’s grace. Beyond the traumas of the world and my own injured sense of self, there was God providing security and reinforcing love. When I meet up with people who have not experienced these riches yet, I can’t judge them. My journey can’t be explained and theirs doesn’t need to be either. I wonder at my blessings and can feel how deep the darkness would be if I lived without the ways of salvation.