United Methodist Endorsing Agency: War and the Soul – Book Review

March 19th, 2015 Posted by Articles No Comment yet

By Rev Womack

War and the Sou(This review of Edward Tick’s War and the Soul: Healing our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder originally appeared on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry website)

The continued conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, now beyond their fourth year, have generated much attention to the fact of casualties and what is required to treat wounds both visible and invisible. The medical model for the former is inadequate for the latter. Therefore, it is important to develop a wide range of alternative models to accomplish the healing of soulful or spiritual or emotional wounds. Called by many names — battle fatigue, shell shock, traumatic stress, and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) — the experience has been long observed; to this reviewer’s knowledge it was first noted in Homer’s The Iliad. As Dr. Tick observes, “We have seen that the normative functioning of individuals with PTSD is disordered because they have been reordered according to war’s necessities and then abandoned in the transformation” [back to civilian life] (page 151). Dr. Tick’s contribution to the literature is singular in his advocacy for spiritual or soulful therapies and activities that restore the soul and the spirit.

We can understand the “soul” as a metaphor for identity, self-awareness, the locus of value and meaning, the “part of us that contemplates our own existence” (page 17) and that seeks to impart meaning to our lives. We also know that horrendous events can shatter that core. What happens when “the soul flee[s] the body” (page 16)? Dr. Tick answers with the acknowledgement that more is involved than psychic numbing or that identifying the pain will resolve the dilemma. What is required is for the experiences, devastating as they are, to become the source of reflection that renews meaning and goodness in life. As Dr. Tick says, “The common therapeutic model misses the point — that PTSD is primarily a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic disorder — in effect, not a psychological but a soul disorder. All of its aspects concern dimensions of the soul, inasmuch as the soul is the part of us that respond to morality, spirituality, aesthetics, and intimacy” (page 108). What Dr. Tick calls for is a holistic approach to healing and renewal.

Offered in the final section of the book are a series of steps to enable what Dr. Tick calls “The Soul’s Homeward Journey”. Familiar to those who have reviewed literature on spiritual formation, Dr. Tick advocates for purification and cleansing, storytelling, and restitution in the family and the nation. It is a blessing to read Dr. Tick’s reflections on repentance as healing, which can involve a return to the divine presence. This process can require extensive communal support. He speaks of “reconciliation retreats” as a central place for the telling of stories that can connect veterans, who otherwise feel isolated, to one another and to the promise of renewal. By restitution Dr. Tick means that the nation must assume responsibility for and awareness of the consequences of conflict to its soldiers and their families. This is not simply a “veterans’ issue”. He offers this poignant thought: “Restoring the original meanings of Memorial Day and Armistice Day would be a step toward healing our nation and those who have sacrificed for it” (page 246).

In the chapter, “Initiation as a Warrior”, Dr. Tick describes the true ethos of the mature and healthy warrior. This, I believe, is worth the price of the book. It is provocative, yet tender. As one soon to retire from military service, I was startled to find a handwritten note on a certificate from the United States Army Reserve Commanding General that read, “Thanks for living the warrior ethos!” As a young officer in Vietnam and as a Chaplain in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, I spiritually struggled with this idea. The last thing I want to be is a warrior in the stereotypical sense. However, as Tick develops this motif, using as example the Greek playwright Aeschylus, the warrior ethos emerges as an ethic of respect, restraint, responsibility, and renewal. While Dr. Tick maintains that our religious and spiritual traditions at their best encourage us to overcome “the savage within” (page 278), he offers this insight: “As mature warriors have always done, we must develop the wisdom that our rightful tribe is the entire human race and that we owe allegiance to all life, gaining witness from and bearing sympathy for each side” (page 263).

This book is filled with insight, information, sensitivity, and compassion. I recommend this book to veterans and any who desire to develop sensitivity to and ways of supporting the healing of the spiritual wounds many veterans bear.

Reviewed by Rev. J. Paul Womack
Buffalo, New York

War and the Soul: Healing our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Edward Tick, Ph.D., (Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing house, 2005).

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