Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.Matthew 27:61
The challenge of trauma is the challenge of witnessing to a phenomenon that exceeds the categories by which we make sense of the world.Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma.
We sit in silence, our tears baked by the sun and crisp upon our skin. The horror of the past day lurks somewhere beyond us. Too awful to absorb and too persistent to turn away from. And so we keep watch. A silent vigil of grief and mourning. The loss of a friend, a leader, a dream. The loss of what could have been. What should have been! It is finished, he is finished, but for us the turmoil is only beginning. Exhausted from adrenaline and heroics we have little left to give. Finally left to make sense of the senseless.
Which of us in the West can make sense of the world right now? The privileged security of we who had everything has been shaken to its core. Yes, pandemic and war and growing political instability all threaten to overwhelm. But the channels run deeper too. The injustice and wrong that has always dwelt among us has been exposed, and we can no longer avert our eyes from racism, sexism, from abuse of human rights on our doorsteps, from the way the actions of white British people on the global stage threaten to pull apart the fundamentals that we thought had glued us together.
We are traumatised. Individually, collectively. Those of us with the privilege of economic, political and social security – at least in a relative sense – are now having to learn to navigate a world more uncertain, more dangerous, less forgiving, than we have ever known.
How then, shall we live? How do we begin to make sense of the senseless that fills our newsfeeds and dominates our headlines and creeps into towns and households and families not too far or too different from our own?
The pressure to get over, to forget, to wipe away the past, is often reinforced by one particular way of reading Christian redemption. The narrative of triumphant resurrection can often operate in such a way as to promise a radically new beginning to those who have experienced a devastating event. Linear reading of cross and resurrection places death and life in a continuum; death is behind and life is ahead; life emerges victoriously from death. This way of reading, can, at its best, provide a sense of hope and promise for the future. But it can also gloss over the realities of pain and loss, glorify suffering, and justify violence.Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma.
Trauma theologian Shelly Rambo calls us to live carefully through Holy Saturday. We rush, she argues, from Friday to Sunday. From despair to hope. From sorrow to joy.
There is no rushing survivors of trauma.
The work of trauma healing demands that the survivor faces the worst before they move beyond. Safety and acknowledgement before reconnection and re-creation, argues trauma psychologist Judith Herman.
Right now, we are all trauma survivors. And right now, it’s Holy Saturday. The bleak place between death and life. Tomorrow, churches across the land will celebrate resurrection and joy.
But for many of us it is too soon. We will go along with it, but inside we are not yet there.
What if, for now, God is calling us to sit together in Holy Saturday? In the place of mourning, the place of disorientation, the bed of loss from which the slow work of healing might grow?
It’s not a triumphant place. And for many of us this will not sit comfortably. Collective triumph has been easy for at least a generation – although perhaps we hardly knew it.
Holy Saturday is not the place of triumph, but it is the place of the Mission Dei – the work, the sending, of God.
Holy Saturday is the moment when God did God’s greatest and most hidden work.
Holy Saturday is not a place of the quick fix, but it is the foundation for new life.
As Rambo urges us to heed, there is no rushing through this place. Somehow, we need to establish safety here, in our traumatised selves. We need to find the language and resources – the confidence to use these – before we can move on.
Perhaps for some of us this is about repentance. About a reckoning that we are still to fully attend to. In the words of Sanjee Perera, the Archbishops’ Adviser on Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, this Holy Week: ‘How much do you want to change this world that suits you so well?’
For others, it may be about rest. Certainly it is about prayer.
Holy Saturday is a place of powerlessness. And so we need to find some new sense of agency, beyond ourselves, that will take us from this lonely tomb. There is something in the work of God this Holy Saturday that draws us into the waiting, the watching – the utter helplessness of the salvation which is beyond anything we ourselves could enact or imagine.
What does our life, together and as individuals, look like in this place of Holy Saturday? So many unknowns. We cannot dream or strategise ourselves out of this place. This is a place of growing trust and deep patience. The place of the night watch, where we wait in solidarity with all who have known exile and pain. It is not a place for heroics – the time for that is long gone. Neither is it a place of nothingness – that too, has passed us by. It is the uncomfortable in-between. The liminal space where some will feel called to action and others to rest. Where some will need to heal and recover, and others will need to plant seeds afresh. How do we hold together the varying and sometimes competing agendas, priorities, concerns, interests and needs that pull us so strongly both apart and together?
I do not know the answer to this. But I do know that we must tread gently, slowly, and with deep kindness for one another. We are tired, and many of us are in retreat because we just cannot bear any longer the frenetic doing that has shaped our corporate lives of faith for so long. We must find new ways of being together. Being and not doing. Perhaps it will be work enough to cultivate this art of being-simply-together.
The joy of tomorrow, of Easter, is not that everything is all over.
The joy of tomorrow is that in our watching and waiting, our moment of Holy Saturday, still we are not alone. However long this season lasts, God is still speaking, still with us, still at work. Together we wait, with our eye fixed on the awfulness of the tomb, and we wait for the dawn.