Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: Traumas of our times call for us to be spiritually fit
HAYDENVILLE — In 2005, two months after starting my new job as pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Our church, like so many others, mobilized. We prayed week after week for our brothers and sisters in the disaster zone, we provided money and supplies and we sent two teams of folks to New Orleans help rebuild devastated communities.
For close to a year, our church was Katrina-focused — devoting countless hours, dollars and services to that tragedy.
As a pastor, I approached the Katrina disaster as a once-in-a lifetime experience. I threw every ounce of mission money, time and energy at that catastrophe, believing that we would not see a sorrow like that for a very long time.
I was wrong.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the pace of natural and human-created disasters has quickened. We barely catch our breath from the last tragedy before we hear devastating news about the next.
Just in the last 12 months, we have faced the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.; Hurricane Sandy along the Atlantic coastline; the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.; the bombing at the Boston marathon; the factory explosion in West, Texas; and most recently tornados in Oklahoma.
It seems that awful news bombards us daily. With an armed citizenry that sometimes turns violent, along with epic droughts, floods, hurricanes and super-storms, we are living through a time of one awful natural or human-created disaster after the next. We are confronted with heartbreaking news when we read the newspaper, watch TV news, receive email updates, or read text alerts on our cell phones.
With each new sorrow, we want to open our hearts and our wallets and respond with love, generosity and service. We want to be helpful. We want to take in the news, feel the pain, hold those affected in our thoughts and respond in some meaningful way.
But we are ill-prepared to do so. We have not prepared our minds and bodies to witness, absorb and respond to this much trauma. We are simply not equipped to live in the world today.
We are not emotionally and spiritually fit enough to take in the number and intensity of natural and human-created disasters barraging us every day and respond with generosity and acts of loving kindness and service. And yet we do need to respond — time and time again — to the awful news that fills the airwaves and fills our days. Before we have recovered from the last disaster, before we have regrouped from the last shock, before we have metabolized the last sorrow, we have to rise again and respond again — with real feeling and by offering real help.
I believe it is an essential part of our human identity to feel compassion for and try to help our brothers and sisters facing loss and trauma.
I think that in order to prepare our minds and bodies to comprehend and contain the sorrow, to take in the horror and respond in meaningful and helpful ways, we must commit to a program of spiritual and emotional fitness. It is the only way to prepare for the assaults we receive daily and equip ourselves to respond with acts of open-hearted kindness and generosity.
A program of spiritual and emotional fitness might — if we are people of faith — include joining a synagogue, mosque, sangha or church to find hope amidst the pain, and strength in the struggle.
It might mean finding or creating a support group to discuss the daily news and plan meaningful and helpful responses to engage in together. It might mean volunteering at the Red Cross to help locally or be sent to disaster areas. It might be creating a realistic budget so we know how much we need to live on and how much we can give away monthly or yearly.
An intentional program of spiritual and emotional fitness seems to me to be the only way to ready our psyche, fortify our compassion muscles and open our internal channels so we can respond to the increasing number of natural and human-created disasters now occurring with frightening regularity.
If we were going to run a marathon, or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, or bike across America, we would train and get in shape. Because we are now living through times of frequent natural and human-created disasters, we cannot afford to be spiritually flabby and emotionally weak. We have to do the emotional and spiritual equivalent of getting in shape.
I think we need to commit ourselves to a program of emotional spiritual fitness so we can respond to the sorrows in our world today, so we can be ready vessels to channel goodness and grace, so we can bring comfort and assistance and so we can move through the world as agents of hope and change.
We are not facing a sprint. We are facing a marathon that is stretching out into the distance.
So we need to be ready — emotionally and spiritually fit. I think we need to start preparing today.
The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.