I don’t need to tell you this has been a hard last two weeks. Especially for those in the city, the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in Saint Louis that left three dead and several wounded has resulted in a re-traumatization of our community, even as we still heal, or struggle to heal, other communal traumas. Many can say we either know someone affected or know someone who knows someone affected—receiving text messages from inside that school or another school on lockdown, or helping a child, healthcare worker, or public school teacher understand why someone wanted to take their life. I see symptoms of shock, anger, fatigue, irritability, sensemaking, processing, revaluing, and reprioritizing. The impulse to check on loved ones overrides everything else, and there’s a tension between being depleted of energy, while also carrying a restlessness to act, but not always having clear answer how. I commend our churches’ responses in how you have come alongside each other through this crisis.
I was asked last week by someone outside our presbytery community “What can we do for you?” I was struck by the question, because it brought to my own attention my own feelings of powerlessness. I had many ways I wanted to respond. “I have no answers.” “I have a thousand answers.” I had a desire to say “I DON’T KNOW, JUST DO SOMETHING.” I had a desire to not answer and just make MYSELF do something. I had a desire to refer the question to those who have been answering this question for years but continue to go unheeded. I want to say and do all of the above. I want to want to do and say all of the above! The best I could come up with at the time was “Just…continue holding space for us.”
As I thought more and more about that response, I wondered if I was strong enough to fully provide that myself. Holding space means fully acknowledging your burdens shared and your pain carried (to the best of my ability that we can understand). It means seeing you, validating your emotions (even without the requirement of needing that validation from me). Holding space means giving you the power to determine what that space is or isn’t. It’s being on standby, it’s being available, it’s being presence. It means not assuming I have all the right answers. It means reminding each other we are not alone. Can we do that? Can we hold that space for each other?
And this is where the church gives me hope.
You continue to endure. You continue to be resilient, even when you need a break from enduring and being resilient and rest for a bit. You continue to make space for each other. Consider all we have endured. Grief compounds with other grief: another shooting, in the national news yet so close to home. There’s our fear for our children and neighbors brings anger and worry. Funerals for loved ones makes our sense of loss ache at the mere mention of grief. There’s our sense of lost time during the pandemic can bring anxiety, and an election provoking us to feelings of urgency. There is a persisting legacy of racism we are still trying to dismantle. We are carrying all that, while also carrying the demands of those struggling with each all these things and turning to their leaders to deal with it, sometimes in not so healthy ways. I hear a struggle to hold space for each other even as we are barely able to make space for ourselves.
There is a volume I continue to find on the most accessible part of my bookshelf called Disaster Spiritual Care: Practical Clergy Responses to Community, Regional, and National Tragedy (2nd Edition). I got it at the beginning of the pandemic and find I don’t need to go far before I find something that focuses me and grounds me in something actionable and empowering in times of communal tragedy and trauma.
On page 232, there is a section that talks about Understanding Limitations, and lists some daily exercises. I share them with you in the spirit that I received them, as a kind of friendly reminder of what power we do have, what space we can hold for ourselves, even as we work to make space for others. They are:
“Define your mission in providing care in the particular context
Clearly define your limitations for care you can offer
Identify what else can be done by the survivor, others, and God
Focus on the positive impact of your care
Leave your time of providing care by developing a ritual that allows you to reflect on your care and turning survivors over to God
Remember that you are responsible to people, not for people”
How might these help you hold space for each other and yourself? These may not be enough, but it could be some ways to answer the question “What can I do?”
May we hold space for each other, not just the working, performing, producing selves, but the authentic, real, and sufficiently enough selves that God made us to be, in this particular time and place.
Let’s hold space for each other.
In compassion, hope, and gratitude,
Rev. Ryan J Landino
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Cell Phone: 314-409-9002