Recently, at a conference I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Tami DeCoteau* speak about trauma, and the effects trauma can have on individuals and cultures. One piece of data she shared, which I will never forget, covered research on how trauma effects the body at an unseen level.
If you did not know, science now has the ability to measure genetic changes to a person. With this technology they have been able to monitor the effects of trauma beyond what we can see, and we know now that trauma in a persons physical world, does not just stay physical or even emotional. It effects the core of a persons basic most inner functioning language, their DNA. Dr. DeCoteau elaborated that the effect of changing DNA because of a trauma, can stays inside of a person’s family history for 14 generations. Yes, I typed that right. 14 generations of a group of people can be effected by trauma. This is over a thousand years worth of trauma lingering in the core of a culture of people. Lastly, she explained that the most important pieces in helping a person recover from trauma is having a safe,trusting person to turn to, and giving them room to tell their story with support from those listening (not criticism).
I was floored as I heard this data. As her words lingered in my mind, and the magnitude of their effects dug in it became clear, 1000 years worth of fear, a 1000 years worth of shame, a 1000 years worth of undervalued presence, are effecting the subcultures that make up society, and each individual member of that society manifests the historical trauma in varied ways. Layer this with the realization that there is not just a single trauma effecting all people for all generations, but multiple traumas, what we have is a reality that each of us are weaved into tapestry that is begging for healing. Then as part of the tapestry, we are also called to be the healing community through basic hospitality providing as safe trustworthy place for trauma to be shared.
Tapestry, an interesting image to share, to highlight the connections we have to each other, both the good and the bad, but connected just the same. We are connected as a people well beyond any surface attribute we can see, in ways that may make us very uncomfortable to think about. But if we know this about ourselves, if we know we can hurt together as a whole united people, how then do we take time to heal together as a whole united people?
This is the question before us today, healing together as a whole united people. I am not psychologist. I am a theologian. I study the bible, and while there are many scientific explanations for things, I believe that often we miss the value of Jesus words, which can an in fact offer healing. In this case, to combat the historical trauma of people, I think the answer might be just as simple as loving our neighbor.
Jesus, was asked how one can gain eternal life. In the midst of the discussion the law was acknowledged, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all our soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, AND love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer prompted another question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus defined the neighbor as the one who had suffered a trauma and needed love, compassion, and generosity bestowed upon them. Jesus defined the neighbor as the person who was laying broken affected by sin, and then defined how we should respond to those who have been traumatized. (Luke 10:25-37)
This language from Jesus reminds us that we are called to extend a hand out and journey with people who have faced trauma, to offer them hospitality, a safe place and a listening ear. Yes, this is what Jesus reminds us to do, but it is also difficult because sometimes our own trauma gets in the way. Our own historical trauma makes it hard to offer hospitality. Maybe because of fear, because memories flood in… or any number of things. But Jesus also reminds us that we can run to him, run to God with all of ourselves, and be offered hospitality and love, as we give our self to him. For when we clam Jesus as our savior, then we claim Jesus as our healer from the trauma we face as broken and wounded people. When we claim Jesus as our savior, then we claim Jesus as our teacher, and we claim ourselves as students of his love, and claim that it is our role to express love to our neighbor. By this acknowledgment we can see our place in the tapestry, not only as part of the hurt, but part of the healing. Let us together express that love for our neighbor.
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. The second if this. Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.Mark 12:29-31
*Dr. Decoteau holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology, with a specialization in cognitive-behavior treatment of anxiety disorder for adults, adolescents, and children. She received the Indian Healthy Service 2009 Health Professional of the Year Award for outstanding service and the American Psychological Foundation 2010 Early Career Award for providing culturally competent practice techniques for Native Americans and for developing training programs in rural, under-served areas. Recently, she was appointed a member of the US congress to serve the commission on Native Children to help address the challenges faced by Native Children. She is a long standing member of the American Psychological Association, an enrolled member of the Manda, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation, and a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Cippewa.