Responding to Trauma and Tragedy

Discussion Time:

Healing moral wounds: Warrior Welcome Home as a case study in contextualised healing as mission

Rev Cameron West, Venerable Bob Sutherland and Rev Prof Darren Cronshaw

Moral injury (MI) is the lived reality of guilt and shame and secondary mental health symptoms of combat veterans who struggle to reintegrate after war, particularly when they have acted in ways or seen things that are inconsistent with their moral values. MI is a complex issue that requires a holistic approach to understand and treat. This paper offers a review of the relevant literature, especially recent literature arising from Australian defence contexts, and a case study of one innovative therapeutic group response. Warrior Welcome Home (WWH) is a four day retreat developed and originally hosted at St John’s Gordon in Sydney by Rob Sutherland, designed for former- or current-serving defence personnel and their spouses, to help support the healing of those who have experienced moral injury. The retreat has been offered nine times since 2012 in Sydney, Darwin and, most recently, the Gold Coast in September 2020. WWH’s model, drawing on Mark 2:1-12, is to invite wounded people in need of healing into an encounter with Jesus and the Christian story. It invites participants to consider and experience the Christian message of redemption, the positive influence of reintegration that comes from a trusting community, and the restorative power of life-giving ritual and liturgy. This paper is an exercise in practical theological conversation among three Army chaplain colleagues engaging in reflective practice and mutual learning. It is an exercise in appreciative inquiry about WWH and the ways it attempts to unravel the theological and ethical, political and psychological, social and cultural factors in healing moral injury. Further, the paper further seeks to identify opportunities to invite WWH participants to contribute to the production of theological knowledge about their own healing.

Healing and Metanoia Post Tragedy: An Interfaith Dialogue

Dr Mary Eastham

The killing of 51 Muslims at prayer on 15 March 2019 in Christchurch shattered the image of New Zealand as a safe place for Muslims to worship in peace. At once the nation began a period of mourning and soul searching. The terrorist was not from New Zealand, and yet this country too confronts the evils of racism, islamophobia and white supremacy. What is an appropriate interfaith response to this heinous crime? Since 2009, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Interfaith Relations has provided a platform to promote mutual respect and understanding through four strands of interfaith dialogue: religious experience, theological exchange, the dialogue of life and action. Deep interpersonal friendships have been established through these methods. They are insufficient, however, to transform the social evils at the root of the 15 March terrorist attack. To be an agent for healing and metanoia, Catholics involved with interfaith dialogue must engage with the critical categories of Johann Baptist Metz: Memory, Narrative and Solidarity. Otherwise we fail in our mission to be a life giving force for justice and mercy.

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer as local churches respond in gathered worship to tragedy and trauma

Dr Lynne Taylor and Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Christian practices embody and reflect lived theologies. The gathered worship service is theory- and theology-laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history and what human response could and should be. Investigating how Christians pray corporately is thus a potentially fruitful way to explore underlying theologies. This paper draws on empirical research to investigate how local churches pray in response to trauma and tragedy. Online surveys were conducted in November 2015 (following coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris) and March 2019 (following the Christchurch mosque shootings). The paper is part of a larger project, that seeks to examine how in the midst of trauma, churches might pray. Previous analysis has examined the empirical data in dialogue with Storm Swain’s understanding of God as earth-maker (creating/holding); pain-bearer (suffering); and life-giver (transforming); and with Samuel Well's typologies of God's presence. This paper analyses the data paying particular attention to healing. What images of healing are evident? Who are envisaged as agents of healing? What is the telos, the imagined shape of a healed world? As one example, a church invited prayer by placing native grasses on the altar. This suggests several theologies of healing, including remembering, with one grass for every victim murdered, and hospitality, recognizing those who died not as “other” but as lives planted in indigenous soil. The implications for those who pray in trauma and tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the theological work possible through the practices of Christian public prayer.