The Antithesis of Anamnesis

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I learned a new word this week: anamnesis. If you’re a medical person it means taking a patient history, but in a theological context it means a remembering – the act of remembering the last supper and the crucifixion in the re-enactment that is the eucharist.

Jesus gave us this one thing to remember Him by. Only one. And when we do it we are bringing to mind the night that He sat with His friends, knowing He was about to be betrayed, tortured and killed – and told them to love one another and to remember, always remember, this meal that they had shared. When we take communion we share again with the disciples, all unknowing, the mystery of the sacrifice.

‘For though we are many, we are one body’ says the Anglican prayer. Are we broken enough for Him? Are we welcoming of brokenness, for His sake? Do we allow ourselves to be broken in the breaking and the making of His Kingdom?

This is my body, broken for you.

When Jesus spoke these words He gave us something to replace the remembering that took place every year at Passover. The seder meal was (and is) a remembering of the slavery of the Israelites, and a symbolic re-enactment of their redemption, by grace. Our 21st century eucharist is a remembering, a symbolic re-enactment of our redemption, by grace, through Christ.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the opposite of this. PTSD is a remembering and an unwitting re-enactment of something awful that won’t let go. It is a suspension of time and space and a re-living, a re-experiencing, of the awfulness that caused it to be labelled a ‘trauma’ in the first place. Trauma is the Greek word for wound. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a wound that won’t heal, a festering, gangreous wound. Just for extra fun, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is when you experience so many wounds and so many un-forgettings that it screws you up even more.

But maybe – maybe we have to be broken?

By His wounds we are healed.

Do the healthy need a doctor?

All I know is that I am broken. A million pieces broken. Yet I have a feeling that there is something very special in this brokenness. I have a feeling that PTSD, and its unwilling anamnesis, is a direct, if unconscious echo of the extraordinary beauty of the eucharist. Time heals all wounds, they say (it doesn’t) but I don’t want it to heal this one. Maybe this PTSD is the 21st century equivalent of stigmata? It makes no sense. It makes perfect sense.

Lord, I have cried ‘take this cup away from me’ and I have meant it. And yet I would not want You to take Your cup away – because that would take You with it. I am so sorry for my unfaithfulness, for my pathetic attempts at loving You. I have nothing and I can give nothing. Fill me with You till I am overflowing with Your grace. Amen

 

The Tracing of Scars

man of sorrows

Man of Sorrows

To…

every single one who carries

their own unspoken broken –

these pages had to be for you –

the tracing of scars.

~ Dedication at the beginning of The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)

Trouble

Mama has the tea ready when I get there for prayer group and Bible study first thing in the morning. I have on the socks that the woman with five kids and stage four cancer knit for me. This is always the first thing – to go right into the throne room of God wearing nothing less than your aching prayers…

Mama, she hands me a mug of steaming tea – apple cinnamon – and tells me it’s Psalms 107 this morning and could I read the chapter right out loud? Read it because it’s manna, and you’ve got nothing to give if you haven’t gathered, and you have to gather word manna at daybreak if you’re going to gain from it the day long. Read it because it’s your very life, and why live emaciated? 

…hadn’t Spurgeon said it? ‘There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health, except to be sickness, and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health. It is a good thing to be without a trouble, but it is a better thing to have a trouble and know how to get grace enough to bear it.’

~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 107:1 (NRSVA)

Ann Voskamp at her beautiful best this morning as I listened to her read from the book of devotions drawn from her first book, One Thousand Gifts. Ann is the first person who taught me that you have to be broken to be mended. Before that I was just broken. And lost. And thinking that there must be something wrong with me, something deep in my soul – a stench that attracted trouble like a bluebottle to decay. Ann showed me that, contrary to my beliefs, the true beauty of God, the love of Christ, was found in the very midst of decay. It turned everything on its head and I began to see the world, the Church and Jesus with fresh eyes. How then can I not give praise? How can I be anything less than thankful?

No more let sorrows grow

Hold the child and hear Him crying,

No more let sorrows grow

He knows my troubles…

~ from the song My Troubles by Andrew Greer

Forward by Grace

on the days when you feel unBrave, you are not undone, but undoubtedly are carried forward by the determination of grace.

~  Ann Voskamp, 12th January 2017

PTSD seems to jump up at the most unexpected times. Sometimes I don’t know even what sets it off. I struggle. I feel overwhelmed. I get all in a muddle. I get tired. I conclude I am useless and worthless and a waste of space.

God says, “I will not break a bruised reed.” (Matthew 12:20). God says, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” (John 5:8). He knows my brokenness. He knows my uselessness. And He ignores all that, lifts me up and sets me on my feet again. So I go back to the laundry and the dishes and the stuff of mothering and I begin, again, to put one foot in front of the other. Only by grace.

“Be Kind.”

 

My son, who has autism, is not able to follow stories, not very much. Watching his little sister in her yearly Christmas pantomime last year 15-year-old Prince was worried when, dressed as Maid Marian, she ran across the stage yelling, “Who shot that arrow at me? You nearly took my eye out!” Everyone else laughed but he leaned in to me and whispered, “Mummy, is Chip OK?” I told him she was just pretending and relief flooded his face. “I thought someone hurt her!” I told him it was just a joke. 

Parables, such as those consistently used by Jesus, are utterly baffling to our dear boy. Prince has to have even common expressions carefully explained. Of necessity, then, the gospel has been reduced – and reduced some more – to two words:

be kind.

This morning I read Ann Voskamp’s blog post, immediately followed by my daily bible chapters. As I read both I was struck again how simple the Good News actually is.

Truly I tell you… whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 (NRSVA)

Why don’t we let loose kindness – see what happens?

My Brothers, My Sisters

Caring isn’t a Christian’s sideline hobby. Caring is a Christian’s complete career. We don’t just care about people — caring about people is our job — the job every single one of us get up to do every single day. That’s it. Caring is our job, our point, our purpose. We’re here to care like a boss… 

Because God forbid, you don’t get a roof over your head, food on your table and the safety of no bullets shattering your windows because you deserve more — you only get all that so that you get to serve more.’

Read more of Ann Voskamp’s brutally honest post about the desperate realities of life as a refugee fleeing Islamic State here:

Into Iraq #2: What the News isn’t Telling You & Why We Can’t Afford to Pretend it’s Not Happening

You can donate via Ann’s page to The Preemptive Love Coalition, or you can donate to Open Doors. Both are there on the ground with the refugees. I have no more words. Just read it. Please. Give what you can.

EMDR, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Mental Illness

My doctor psychologist lady tells me I’m holding back. She tells me I’m ‘blocking’: I am not letting the EMDR process move forward at anything other than a snail’s pace. Which is ok, she says, but I only have 18 sessions and then I have to go back on the waiting list if I need it again. So if I want to be seeing real improvements I have to allow her in, as it were… No, I don’t have to allow her in. I have to allow me out – the me that stays hidden, locked inside the vault. This tomb was created so that I could survive. If I hadn’t, I would have lost my sanity or, worse, lost my children.

It is the existence of the vault that causes the PTSD, because occasionally the vault is shaken, and occasionally, outside of my control, one of the terrible things hidden inside escapes and wreaks havoc, even if only temporarily. It happens often enough that they give it a name and call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is quite a polite-sounding name for what happens when your own head screams danger! danger! danger! because the man walking by looks vaguely like your ex-husband, or emergency! emergency! emergency! when you hear a certain type of sound that sounds a bit like something far worse. Mind you, I’m very good at hiding it. Abuse teaches you to hide your thoughts and feelings because they make you more vulnerable, so you become a master of disguise.

I think PTSD occurs because human beings are wired for survival. It took me time to figure that out. I thought I was weak and that that’s why it affected only some people. I don’t now. PTSD occurs when you have to push your emotions down in a hostile, sometimes life-threatening situation, in order to think rationally and clearly – in order to survive. It’s a great survival technique. The trouble is that you then have to be able to process the memories of those terrible events, because that’s what the brain does every night as you sleep, but if you’ve had to push it down far enough, and if you’ve had to push it down over and over and over in order to survive and continue to survive… well, then you end up with PTSD, because we’re not made for intense and unrelenting distress.

The past two days I have been giving what the psychologist said a lot of thought. She’s right and I know she’s right. I have talked it through with my dear Frank. I have talked, in less detail of course, with each of my children. It occurred to me that if I was diagnosed with a different kind of serious illness, I would allow myself the time and space for the treatment to work, and I would explain to the children what was happening (because they’re all old enough to understand) so that we could muddle through together because that’s what families do. So why had it not really occurred to me to do this for EMDR? Why did I think that my treatment and its effects were not ‘worthy’ enough to be given consideration?

I don’t think the fault lies solely within me. I don’t think it’s just me wanting to push through and just get on with it, because, as St. Teresa of Avila says in The Interior Castle, ‘getting on with it’ is just common sense. No, I think that our culture looks upon mental illness and its treatment with cynicism. Sufferers are often perceived as weak-minded or morally deficient, as malingerers or somehow less human. Our culture subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) degrades those with mental illness. They become objects of fear, scorn or pity, as if they’re no longer worthy of the same respect and dignity as someone with a ‘physical’ illness. Yet even Jesus experienced mental anguish:

‘In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him…’

Hebrews 5:7-9 (GNT)

Mental illness is a physical illness. If my brain doesn’t work properly because the neurons got screwed up by too much adrenaline, or if the brain’s hormones are too high or too low, how is that not physical? Who in this world can look into my malfunctioning brain and know what I am thinking or feeling? No one. Yet still the fear within ourselves makes us view the mentally ill at arms’ length. In the 21st century that is nothing short of a disgrace.

I read an excellent post from Ann Voskamp today. She could have written it just for me at this exact time. Praise God for His provision! How can I be anything but thankful for today? Here’s an excerpt. I pray it blesses you as it did me:

Dear Thriver

I once held a bird in my hand.

No one else could see it, but I felt it. I felt it’s heart thumping hard and afraid.

It happens– there are ways to look fine on the outside…. and no one knows what you’ve really survived.

But honestly? You didn’t just survive, so let’s toss that myth right at the outset.

The way you keep walking? You may be wounded. You may be hurting. You may be limping. You may feel alone and overwhelmed and an unspoken broken — but you’re no victim. And you’re not just a survivor. You’re a Thriver.

You may bleed but you rise.

Yeah, it may not feel like it — but you are seen… how you just keep keeping your chin up and living brave through the hurt and how you keep taking one step out of bed and another step through the door — and how you keep scaling mountains by relentlessly taking steps forward.

But I wanted you to know — your wounds are seen and it’s okay… 

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