Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Photo of remains of foxholes in the Ardennes Forest from Bob Cromwell's website. These foxholes were dug in the winter of 1944-45 and still remain to this day.)

Isaiah 29: 1-11:

Ah, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped! Add year to year; let the festivals run their round. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be moaning and lamentation, and Jerusalem shall be to me like an Ariel. And like David I will encamp against you; I will besiege you with towers and raise siegeworks against you. Then deep from the earth you shall speak, from low in the dust your words shall come; your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost, and your speech shall whisper out of the dust. But the multitude of your foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of tyrants like flying chaff. And in an instant, suddenly, you will be visited by the Lord of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, all that fight against her and her stronghold, and who distress her, shall be like a dream, a vision of the night. Just as when a hungry person dreams of eating and wakes up still hungry, or a thirsty person dreams of drinking and wakes up faint, still thirsty, so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion. Stupefy yourselves and be in a stupor, blind yourselves and be blind! Be drunk, but not from wine; stagger, but not from strong drink! For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep; he has closed your eyes, you prophets, and covered your heads, you seers. The vision of all this has become for you like the words of a sealed document. If it is given to those who can read, with the command, “Read this,” they say, “We cannot, for it is sealed.”

Veterans Day has become an odd holiday for me. At one level, I think about my gratitude for our veterans of the armed forces, and this is the level that I mostly display in public. But in private, it has been a reminder of how PTSD affects not just veterans, but all who have been through "war"--wars of abuse, neglect, hatred, bigotry. November 11 has become a day for me to personally reflect on my own civilian form of PTSD. For some reason, reading the stories of veterans give me a reminder that I am not alone in my PTSD. Many of us, in many ways, still have the remnants of foxholes like those in the above picture, in the recesses of our minds.

I invite you to start by reading Todd Donatelli's wonderful piece in Episcopal Cafe from Nov. 10. I found myself drawn to it by the interplay of "episodes of shelling" and "episodes of silence." Todd describes how the experiences of war, which happened near Christmas 1944, colored Christmas for his father for the remainder of his life--his father withdrew into silence roughly from mid-December until the New Year. For Todd and his family, it felt like a "cloud" descending upon his home.

Believe me, I get what that "cloud" was all about. There are certain periods of the year that I can feel that "cloud" descend upon me. Sometimes I am bewildered as to how a cloud from 35 to 45 years ago, that once covered a home that no longer exists, and a family that is scattered to the winds and mostly in the cemetery, still follows me. I have had reminders in my more recent past that remind me that with other faces, other places--that cloud can suddenly re-appear.

PTSD can feel much like the description we read in Isaiah--feelings of emotional hunger and thirst, but the cloud deadens everything. Common descriptions include feeling "blind" to feelings in some way. The phrase that jumps out in Isaiah for me is that feeling of being unable to "prophecy"--that is, I lose my sense of discernment of what is factual and what is the projection of old feelings that I bottled away, stuffed in drawers, or walled off. There is a hyper-vigilance that arises as this numbness sets in, and I can become more irritable and touchy in a way that bewilders those who love and care about me. Even genuine care and concern can feel "intrusive." This inability to discern tends to manifest itself in times of anxiety and stress, as well as within a seasonal nature connected with certain holidays and red-letter days in my life.

This has become more noticeable as my spirituality deepens and broadens. It is almost as if with each transformation I undergo to the positive as a child of God, I must also accept there is a period of a "dark night of the soul" that goes with it, and the more of my transformed self I become, the more glaring the episodes of PTSD become. They look "less like me" than they ever did, and concealing them is more or less futile. It's an odd juxtaposition-- the more a child of the Light I become, the more out of place the dark episodes feel.

I used to think this was "only about me"--that it was a private world between my ears and no others. But Todd's article reminds me that PTSD affects entire families and extended families. I have come to realize there are several people in my circle over the years I have harmed through my slowness in asking for the appropriate kinds of help. Over the decades, I've left a small trail of people once close to me who could no longer put up with my hurtful outbursts and angry episodes. I am grateful it is a small trail, but it is there nonetheless. There are people I've wounded; I continue to try to learn the skills to patch these broken relationships, and I slowly learn to make progress, but there will always be parts that remain broken. It is my own ration of stuff from a broken and hurtful world. What I am learning is that this is more universal in even mild PTSD than I once believed.

But before I turn this into a diatribe that sounds more like a pity party than it does a place of spiritual hope, I want to continue on about Todd's article.

He talks about visiting the place where his father's trauma occurred, and how this has been the first step in a journey of healing for him that continues. It is a story about using one cloud--the vast and grand "cloud of witnesses"--to lean into when the memories of that dark cloud loom in the horizon.

What I can tell you about that from a personal level is that one of the biggest joys in my life has been to learn that when I accept my own powerlessness in a situation, that there is comfort in that "cloud of witnesses." Some of the witnesses have dirty feet and stained robes. Some of the witnesses are already in the world beyond our physical space and provide presence when we feel alone. Some of the witnesses are people we've never met, who occupy our worship space. One of the joys for me of worshiping in a 90some year old church building is some Sundays, the walls feel thick with the residue of decades of prayers uttered in praise and desperation; in thanksgiving and fear. There's probably nothing I've ever prayed within the walls of Trinity-Kirksville that hasn't been prayed already. Nothing I can ever tell the old girl could ever shock her. There's a comfort in that.

When we learn to stop suffering alone--to simply accept the presence of the portions of the cloud of witnesses available to us, we have power beyond ourselves, and hope where being alone only fosters an endless loop of hopelessness. To allow ourselves to "be helped" allows others to live out THEIR Baptismal Covenants; it is not enough for us to simply focus on our own and how we should help.

I am learning that in being helped, I begin to see the face of Jesus in new places and in people I never imagined seeing that face. I am learning that some of that dark cloud was of my own making, but most of it was created by forces beyond my puny abilities to control. I am learning that I have to let some of these emotions show in order to sort them out and trust what other people tell me about them--even people I find annoying or difficult at times. I don't have to accept that when those red-letter seasons and days come, that I simply have to endure them. I can let this cloud of witnesses hold me up. There's actually a sense of adventure and fun in that cloud, as well as hope. There are hidden surprises in unexpected smiles. Buried treasure in pats on the back that I did not expect. I've never landed in a mosh pit before, but I have a feeling that is close to what I feel when I feel the strength of this cloud.

In short, I am learning not just to lean into, but to fall in love with the cloud of witnesses. To stand in awe of that cloud as a force for good. To see it change and transform all who choose to see it. Not just me.

It doesn't mean I won't trip in some of the old foxholes again, but it does mean I don't have to dig them any deeper than what they are.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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