(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)
About a month ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. Several weeks ago we discussed how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being. Last week, we shared how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration. This week we will look at how the “sacred story” can be a means of healing for the soul.
What is a “sacred story”? Most cultures and religions would define sacred story as an often repeated story that provides answers to the meaning of life. These are powerful stories handed down from an authoritative spiritual source, and usually are controlled and protected by cultures, institutions, or organizations. It is in the telling of stories that we reveal who we are and what we hold precious. In the listening of stories we can grow in understanding about the Holy, the world community, and about each other.
Some multi-cultural and multi-faith examples of sacred story are:
- The Creation of Adam and Eve
- Cherokee story of how humans lost their ability to speak to animals
- Buddha’s successive rebirths on the path to Enlightenment
- Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham
- Hindu goddess Durga as the archetype of courage and righteous action in the world
- Jesus and the Resurrection
- Hollywood’s “Star Wars”
There is a richness across faith traditions and cultures that offer differences of thought and theology. No matter what the veteran’s spiritual connection, sacred story can be instrumental in providing the hearer a foundation in healing and restoration.
My faith was literally shaken by three bombs and a helicopter “hard-landing” while in Iraq between 11 December 2003 and 21 of February 2004. It was after the third near death experience when an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) exploded as my vehicle passed that I began to doubt God’s providence. The bomb killed two Guard Soldiers in the follow-on vehicle, but spared me. My assurance and confidence in God’s protection began to waver. I experienced fear that clearly could have overwhelmed me to the point of not traveling. I had anger toward my commander who I thought had failed to secure the area where we knew the insurgents had means and opportunity to plant IEDs. I felt deep grief for the loss of my battle buddies.
In the midst of all of this, I spent time each day in scripture and prayer. There were passages that spoke to my soul and heart more than others. Especially after my near-death experiences, the Psalms, particularly those written by David, a warrior himself, expressed pain, anger, loss, grief, and doubt toward God. David emphatically cries out to God, “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart, every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? (Psalm 13:1-2, New Living Translation) I began to express my anger to God through my prayer time. It did not bring me comfort or peace. But, I had a sense of knowing that another warrior, a man of faith, experienced something similar to me. This same warrior could say verses later, “But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” (Verse 5)
During my Pathways Program at Fort Belvoir, a trauma healing journey, I learned in group (all combat veterans) and individual therapy that the more times I can express my story and hear the story of others, I work toward healing. We all shared a commonality, that trauma challenged our assumptions about the world and God. However, everyone’s experience in the midst of suffering following trauma was different. As we shared our stories, it validated for me the importance of trusting our story with others.
However, trusting my story with anyone other than a combat veteran was difficult, to include my spouse. I took years and a prompting by my therapist to share my story outside my “comfort” zone. Please understand, trauma can shake one’s faith. The veteran wants to understand the “why”. We do this by finding fellow journey travelers (veterans) who ask similar questions. But, more is required!
Over the last several years as I have served as the Coordinator for the Soul Care Initiative, I have learned that my spouse and my faith community is ready to listen to my story. They desire to walk with me to discover my “why”. Those who have received my story with their heart have received me.
This has made my story “sacred” because my story is;
- an often repeated story that attempts to answer the meaning of life
- handed down and it is protected by the listener
- reveals who I am and what I hold precious
- through my story, the listener grows in understanding about the Holy, the world community, and about each other
Healing comes not only in sharing my sacred story, but in listening to the sacred stories of faith. These stories help me to develop a sense that love shapes God’s activity; patient, persevering, and long lasting. It is through love that God responds to a broken world. It is also through the faith community that I experience a shared story of others on a similar journey.
The veteran’s story is sacred as is the faith community’s story. By understanding the veteran’s story in the context of the spiritual meaning within a particular faith community context, we then can relate to the person, not the war.
The sacred story has relevance for the veteran because there are similarities in their own story. In the Christian tradition the church recognizes that Christ died a torturous death because of human brokenness that is graphically symbolized in the images of war and its desolation. “He descended into hell”, a phrase Christians confess, reminds them of the Good News that even the hell of war is not beyond the grasp of God’s redeeming love through Jesus Christ. The crucified Lord returned with forgiveness, healing, hope, and the requirement for all to do likewise. As the church lives out these words, they learn to trust others, to bind the wounds of those hurting, and to grow in grace.
As you consider the sacred story of your faith community, what have you seen as a strength or capability? What are your stories that bring healing? I will be on vacation and will post the next blog after July 4th. Until then, thank you for the conversation…