Trauma and grief have the effect of stripping away the superficial and leaving you confronted with what’s left.
In the first two weeks after the Christchurch Earthquake I felt like I was existing at two levels. The surface level focussed on survival, boiling water, preparing food, caring for the children, just functioning from day to day. That was only a thin layer over the emotional level. I couldn’t pray, because it felt like the part of me I normally prayed from was just a gaping hole. All I could do was cry. The best metaphor I can think of was as if part of my spirit had been ripped out from me, leaving a raw, bleeding wound. My mind told me these are “normal” feelings after a traumatic experience. My heart could only curl up and cry.
I’ve come to the opinion that crying is a prayer – a deep, gut centred prayer that groans beyond words.
Two different images come to mind as I write this, both are from C.S. Lewis.
The first is the scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Eustace is transformed back from being a dragon, by Aslan painfully ripping off the layers of dragon-ness to restore the boy underneath.
The second is a scene from one of Lewis’ novels called ’Till We Have Faces. The character Orual has travelled to confront the gods with a complaint. In the process of reading out her complaint in the divine court, it becomes clear that it is filled with excuses and self justifications. Once these excuses have been stripped away, she is left confronted with who she really is, and the ways in which she, too, has been at fault.
“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, all the time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, not let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
What is left once all the masks have been removed?
In the last few weeks I have found the deep core of me. At that core, my prayer was:
Here I am.
I am wounded and broken, my spirit is raw and bleeding.
My hands and heart are empty, I have nothing to offer, nothing to give.
But I am here.
There has been no immediate answer to that prayer. No light shining, no dramatic lifting of my spirit. I haven’t felt or sensed God’s presence in any way. But I believe that God was still there. He was in the darkness. He was part of the crying, and He heard that prayer.
The symbols of Christian communion are particularly meaningful to me. The bread symbolises the Body of Christ, which was broken in sacrifice on the cross, for our redemption from our brokenness. The wine symbolises the Blood of Christ, which was shed for our healing and restoration. My heart has been broken, my spirit has bled. Yet in the message of Easter, the crucifixion and the resurrection, through the willing sacrifice of Christ, there is hope.
No, I’m not there yet. I’m better than I was. I can pray now, when I couldn’t before. I still feel the grief, I’m still prone to tears. Yet deep within me I found my core, and within that core is faith. That is enough.