Bridging the Divide Between Tragedy and Grace

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The tragic events Friday in Connecticut bring with them a panoply of emotions; everything from grief to anger to fear to shock. As humans we want to understand and we often think that means dissecting the life of the shooter to either find some shred of humanity and some emotional resonance so that we can relate in some small way or find something defective in his chemical makeup that makes him so far from us that we don’t have to imagine someone like him sitting on our continuum of humanity.

But horrors don’t have a logical origin point; there is no way to make it make sense. The topography of our human landscape is altered by these tectonic rumble. We can repair and heal but we will always remember the rumble.

Mending Broken

It is a hard and simple truth that sometimes bad things happen, sometimes terrible things, and too often they happen to good human beings who don’t deserve it in any way. I just finished writing a book called Mending Broken which tells my personal journey through the stages of trauma, PTSD, and recovery and which discusses the nature of trauma as it impacts the individual system of body, mind, and spirit.

As a collective body of humanity we are still shuddering from the shock of this quake. The most horrific and unfathomable part of this massacre was the pure innocence of the victims it claimed and the many more innocent who were impacted, imprinted on, for life by the brutality.

How do humans reconcile this ache, how do people of faith reconcile this existential horror? It is hard to parcel out meaning so close to something like this.

The Existential Struggle: Search for Meaning

The truth of tragedy is that there is no grace in the horror itself but only in our humanity in the face of the horrific. Victor Frankl, author ofMan’s Search For Meaning, survivor of Auschwitz, and founder of Logotherapy (one of the forefathers of existential psychology) is someone I constantly return to and reference when I try to grasp grace in atrocities and his book was one of the many road-maps I found on my own journey out of PTSD as well as trying to help others as a trauma therapist and 20’s and 30’s ministry leader.

Victor Frankl struggled to find his own healing out of the pain of surviving the holocaust. What he kept returning to, and what led to his founding of Logotherapy, is and existential response to an essential existential question: how can I live in a world and believe in a God who would allow these things to happen to me or someone I love or someone inherently good?

How do we retain faith in a world where bad things happen to good people?

Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, said:

The truth…love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still knows bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved (pp.37).

He believed and knew the ultimate truth only found when the world strips away all we have known of human love, the answer to the existential question of pain. When we have nothing left to cling to in ourselves, when we are broken by the acts of the world, it is a fracture so excruciating it can only be repaired in and with God. When we are stripped of answers and meaning at the level of this world the only truth (as e.e. cummings says: the root of the root and the bud f the bud of the tree called life) is God. Love that never ends and that is eternity’s embrace; love of, and in, and with the beloved that transcends this world and its horrors.

At The Bottom of Will

As Victor Frankl says, in this space we can touch grace, if only for a moment; and this deep mystical knowing of God only comes for a moment at a time and only comes when we have reached the bottom of our own will. The only will we have left is the will to let go, and as the 12-step model tells us, let God.

There is no way to rationalize the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut with our rational human minds. We can dissect every inch of the shooter’s brain and life and pain for either a shred of humanity or a lack of it but it will never satisfy; it will never fill that space or mend broken.

All we can do is take that pain, brokenness, anger, or grief and give it up to God because the whole is too big for anything in this world to fill. Bad things happen to good people and in the case of places like Newtown, sometimes unimaginably horrific things happen to too many people who don’t deserve it.

There is no logic or will big enough to fill that kind if a communal and collective darkness; it is a volcano of ache. The only thing we can do is give it up to God and ask him to share our pain so we can carry it until we can find the time and place and grace to heal from it.

But we will always be changed from the breaking. We can mend but we will always be changed from the breaking.

**My prayers and thoughts go out to all that suffer this week and in the weeks ahead in Newtown and all those touched by the pain of this human tragedy. The trauma therapist in me wishes I could be of some help with the healing; the trauma survivor in me knows that healing takes time; the mystic in me will continue to pray, let go, and let God.**

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About Teresa B Pasquale

Teresa B Pasquale is a contemplative prayer advocate, ecumenical and interfaith conversationalist, yoga teacher, and trauma psychotherapist. She leads contemplative prayer groups and facilitates contemplation workshops. In addition, Teresa is a lay leader in ministry for 20's & 30's discussion/worship in the Episcopal Church at www.seekersdelray.org. She is the founder of "The Society for Young Christian Contemplatives" (ts4ycc.org) which she created in an effort to give a voice to the need for cultivating silence in the everyday of our contemporary world. Teresa has written articles/posts for The Ooze, Burnside Writer's Collective, The New Social Worker and America Magazine. She just completed a memoir of trauma and recovery titled MENDING BROKEN(www.mendingbroken.com). Teresa lives in South Florida with her husband and three dogs. She can be found at www.crookedmystic.org, teresabpasquale.org, @tbpasquale on Twitter, or www.facebook.com/tb.pasquale. She can be contacted at tbpasquale[at]gmail[dot]com.

5 thoughts on “Bridging the Divide Between Tragedy and Grace

  1. While it is profoundly difficult to try to comprehend the totality of the actions of the young man who slaughtered children and adults with multiple shots to their already dead bodies, it is equally profoundly important that we do not run away from its being an action by a human being against fellow human beings. One “easy out” is to call it an act of evil by which we can imply the perpetrator was less than a human being; another easy out is to use faith to assign it to the realm of a supernatural being who has the power to stop such acts, but doesn’t, yet is sought out to be the source of some divine plan and also the source of some divine comfort. Oh how fortunate are those who can see horrific events and just rely upon a divinity who works his way in strange and mysterious fashion – and let it go at that.
    No! This was an act of a terribly troubled young man whom we must try to get to know as best we can and realize the act is one any of us could have done, but we did not. Why him and not me. Was in his nature (genetics, constitution, chemistry); his nurture and the society’s failure to provide something so vital for him that would have calmed a tortured self; or was it in fate of some unknown factor that tipped the scales so drastically. Lets not give the burden of trying to understand the inexplicable to a divinity on the one hand, nor the devil (evil) on the other. There is much to be learned about ourselves as a species who kills not for food but out of terrifying fright.

  2. I think that even if we could pass some sane gun control laws and address mental health issues that unless we, as a culture, don’t look fearlessly at all the ways violence has insinuated itself into our words, thoughts, deeds and beliefs we will forget soon Sandy Hook because there’ll a new massacre that will “shock” us into being more numb than we were before. I realize that our minds are compelled to assign some kind of meaning that makes sense of the senseless. Through this process, many (though too few in my opinion) arrive at a transcendent understanding of existence. Far too many, however, continue on with same thought processes centered around assigning blame to someone or something. It’s inconceivable to them that they could be capable of the same under similar conditions. No, it’s all happening “out there”. It’s the violent culture, entertainment, video games, bad parenting, it’s God’s punishment, it’s human nature. These are only points of contention to be argued over endlessly. As Frankel concluded love is the only thing capable of holding space for the totality of our existence.

  3. Thank you Randall and Sheldon for your thoughtful insights on this difficult issue. And a wonderful ending Randall stating, “As Frankel concluded love is the only thing capable of holding space for the totality of our existence.”

    It does not eradicate the need for serious conversations or the personal accountability of people who do terrible things but just reserves a place in the soul where only love and God can hold that space for us in the whole of the human condition.

    As a psychotherapist for trauma I live in the unraveling of the human condition and the studying of the human brain; but in that we don’t have to lose the space for the soul and God to hold what cannot be held by human alone, in terms of the burden of pain that is often too great to manage.

    Beautiful words and great reflections. Thank you both for sharing this space and holding the tension.

  4. I read Teresa’s message with a very positive feeling…….IF:
    the “space for the soul and God to hold…….” is needed temporarily,
    for one who believes, to use as a support and comfort as we come to
    try to take back and hold ourselves, as we can deal with it. Be that in
    bits and pieces of the “burden of pain that is often too great to manage,”
    AT THAT MOMENT!

    It must be our work to do as adults, bit by bit, taken back from that
    holding place (named God if you wish) but not relegated to that designation
    to be the one responsible for dealing with our feelings.

    Our growth demands a belief system that allows us to MOMENTARILY lean
    for comfort, but then when we are ready take back from the holding place that
    with must be processed as human beings with human beings to come to human
    solutions. Like the old PBS kinescopic TV play “The Steam Bath” where god is
    a Puerto Rican bath attendant who has to mop up messes in the universe, control
    weather, regulate galactic dances and answers: “Hey common man I aint got the
    time to handle piddily little things like your lives. That’s your job. Don’t dump it one
    me.”

  5. Absolutely, Sheldon! Agreed. The space is held for the unbearable and then, as always, we are accountable to find our way out of the unbearable through human solutions as well as faith (if one chooses).

    We al/ways have to do the work–mind,body,and spirit–when we are strong enough, to get ourselves on the path to healing.

    Thank you, again, for your words.

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