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A Liturgy of Healing and Hope

May 19, 2015

For two days (May 13-14, 2015) a group of thirty-one individuals gathered at a Mennonite Church to learn about the experience of veterans and how to provide support for veterans and their families. The title of this seminar was “The Journey Home from War,” a branch of the STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience program from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. This learning community consisted of veterans, spouses of veterans, representatives from social service and community development agencies, veterans network leaders, and members of congregations from a variety of denominations. We were joined by Katie Mansfield (Director of the STAR program) and led by instructors Rev. Dr. Beverly Prestwood-Taylor (Brookfield Institute) and Katrina Gehman (Eastern Mennonite University).

Each person in attendance felt a call to this gathering, and opportunity was given to share about our personal connection with military veterans. We brought symbols with us that were used to create a visual in the middle of our talking circle—a beautiful reminder of the personal stories of a diverse group who committed to learn together.

JHFWvisual

The “We” I speak of here was a body made up of combat veterans and war protestors, those suffering post-traumatic stress and those providing care for friends and loved ones who do, pacifists and non-pacifists, clergy and laity. Our differences did not prevent us from discovering that we have so much in common. All of us have been touched by war in some way, and are feeling the need to respond in compassion, care, and support of veterans and their families.

We learned about military culture and language, and about the journey from military to civilian life. This reintegration can be a true challenge and requires the caring support of the community. A large focus of the seminar dealt with the physical and spiritual effects of trauma (combat stress, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, Military Sexual Trauma, Moral Injury). We also learned about paths toward healing and about practical responses for walking together with those wounded by the experience of war. The excellent teaching presented by Dr. Prestwood-Taylor and Ms. Gehman was engaging, relevant to life experiences, and invited us to discern active responses.

We ate meals with one another around tables, offering opportunity to build relationships and deepen existing ones. We heard testimonies from Vietnam and Iraq veterans, and this was perhaps the most powerful part of the seminar for me. I’m thankful for these friends who exhibit the courage to verbalize their experience and trust us with their stories, and I recognize that their testimonies are a precious and costly gift. I’m convinced of the blessing of safe spaces, which can foster a healthy atmosphere of confession, listening, and vulnerability for all. It often felt as if the presence of the Spirit filled the room with grace and shalom.

As the seminar concluded we were sent out to embody what we had learned together. Some action steps I noted include:

  • Raising awareness about the physical and spiritual needs of veterans (and their families).
  • Developing mutuality in our relationships as we commit to learn from each other.
  • Being committed to helping returning veterans find “meaningful work…that rewards the soul,” as my friend Glen articulates so well.

Looking back, it feels like a good description of this experience could be a liturgy of healing and hope. Sometimes liturgy is thought of as “the work of the people.” Liturgies consist of work that is intentional and repeated, and so I’m reminded of the important ongoing work that will emerge from this training and these relationships. Liturgy is also a way we are drawn into the restoring, reconciling, healing work of Jesus Christ, who announces hope and good news for all.

In the midst of the work of these two days, my mind kept recalling words from Psalm 34:

seek peace, and pursue it…

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

May we find ways to embody these words, and may God extend this space of healing and hope deeper into our communities and into our hearts.


A special thanks to our generous sponsors, hosts, and organizers who made this training possible: Peaceful Living, Veterans Community NetworkFranconia Mennonite Conference, Salford Mennonite Church, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 25, Roush Associates LLC, Touchstone Veterans Outreach, Hatfield Quality Meats, Harleysville Savings Bank, Univest, Abington Health, Bob Greenwood, Robert Smyrl Insurance, Larry Holman, and Zion Mennonite Church.

 

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