One of the more helpful ways to understand trauma is to acknowledge that experiencing a trauma is not the end of its effect. Those who undergo traumatic events cannot fully process the happening in the moment, and perhaps not even until much later in their life, depending on the trauma. Shelley Rambo puts this beautifully in her book, Spirit and Trauma, “trauma has a double structure: the actual occurrence of a violent event(s) and a belated awakening to the event.”¹
Yet again we spent another day in our common American life talking about school shootings, not because we have awakened to the trauma of the shootings at Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or Marshall County, but because we have yet another trauma with which to begin to wade through. Another school shooting. Another 17 souls brought to death before their time. Another cycle of thoughts, prayers, and avoidance. At this point, at least for me, it’s hard to see us breaking this cycle; it is hard to take a long view on how we might, as a nation, heal and change.
This evening’s psalm takes the long view; it looks with kingdom eyes the ways in which justice and injustice play out in the world. It takes up the task of defending the righteous who are constantly besieged by the unrighteous. It is not a prayer that holds up society the way it is and analyzes it, but rather, it takes up the experiences the psalmist has had in their life and looks through it toward God. He, genuinely, it seems, is invested in letting God move in this world to reward the just and to punish the unjust.
What then, is the word of this psalm for this day? Are we to firmly plant ourselves in the seat of the righteous and ask God’s divine intervention upon those who commit or enable these crimes? This will not yield good news for anyone involved. We must pray, yes, but we must act, too; we must act because our prayer motivates us to do so, and we would be wise to take a word from verses 30 and 31:
The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice.
The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip.
In the days that come we must let our give our voices over to wisdom and to let our tongues speak justice; we must hold the law of God deep in our hearts. We must keep walking in the path and have faith that our steps will not slip.
We, as a nation, have yet to wake up to the trauma of mass shootings, because before we have the chance to begin to process what the violence, the violence occurs once again. It has become my habit in the moments and days following a mass shooting to recite the first stanza and refrain of one of the anthems from our funeral rite:
In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord, who by our sins are justly angered.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and merciful Savior;
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death. – BCP, 492
Just as our sins justly anger God, may our hearts be continually broken until we are motivated to change, and may our steps never slip while walking in the path of the cross.
¹Rambo, Shelley. Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. 7.