"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, January 17, 2020

Trauma and Grace

Westminster/John Knox Press recently sent me the second edition of Serene Jones' book Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (2019), 227pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:
This substantive collection from noted scholar Serene Jones explores recent work in the field of trauma studies. Central to its overall theme is an investigation of how individual and collective violence affect one’s capacity to remember, to act, and to love; how violence can challenge theological understandings of grace; and even how the traumatic experience of Jesus’ death is remembered. Jones focuses on the long-term effects of collective violence on abuse survivors, war veterans, and marginalized populations and the discrete ways in which grace and redemption may be exhibited in each context. At the heart of each essay are two deeply interrelated faith claims that are central to Jones’s understanding of Christian theology: (1) We live in a world profoundly broken by violence, and (2) God loves this world and desires that suffering be met by words of hope, love, and grace. This timely and relevant cutting-edge book is the first trauma study to directly take into account theological issues.
I have read it with great interest as part of a research project on trauma and Eastern Christians, especially in Russia and Ukraine. While a good deal of it is personal, and much of the rest of it rather particular to American politics of the last decade or so (not least racism and police brutality against African-Americans), there is enough material in here that all Christians of whatever tradition could profitably read it.

She rightly begins by noting that "the Bible is one long series of traumatic events and accounts of how people struggle to speak about God in the face of them" (xi). She also has an interesting analysis of so-called doubting Thomas, arguing that what if he was not engaged in some impertinence but was in fact manifesting "dissociation," a key hallmark of trauma, which led to his disbelief?

Additionally her take on the story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus, which I first proposed last spring before coming across Jones' work, matches my own: the inability to "see" Jesus here is very much the result of arguably not just post-traumatic stress but an acute stress disorder by people in the immediate throes of post-crucifixion trauma and overwhelming grief.

Jones ends on what I might call a Balthasarian note, focusing on the importance of recovering the capacity for what he called a "metaphysics of wonder." This, as Jones rightly notes, does not obliterate trauma but is both important in itself and a sign of surviving and even coming again to thrive on the far side of trauma.

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