Trauma-informed Engagement with Scripture, Part 3

compassionbeforeunderstanding curiosityandconnection embodiedreading memories trauma-informed Sep 20, 2022

We only remember so many of the millions of moments that make up our lives. Certain memories stick like Velcro, and all it takes is a particular angle of wind, a certain tone of voice, or a specific combination of smells, and we’re reliving that moment.

Dr. Ashish Ranpura says we remember “because the connections between our brains’ neurons change.”[1] Over the years I have heard and read many painful stories involving scripture. And one of the threads running through them all is disconnection: fissures in our connections with ourselves, with others, or with the world we inhabit.

Mary Karr, in her memoir The Liars’ Club, tells about a neighbor girl who, before hopping in the family Chevy to evacuate for Hurricane Carla, described to Mary in vivid detail how the world would end during that storm:

“how the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would come riding down out of the clouds with their black capes flapping behind them, and how the burning pit would open up in the earth for sinners like me, and how Jesus would lead her and her family right up a golden stair to heaven.”[2]

Philip Yancey describes one of the ways his mother would lead up to whipping his older brother Marshall: “Do you know what they did to disobedient children in the Old Testament? Read Deuteronomy. They stoned them to death!”[3]

Valarie Kaur tells of the day in the eighth grade when her best friend Lisa went from passing notes and giggling with Valarie to barely speaking to her aside from letters trying to “save” her:

…Lisa looked up suddenly and said, “Valarie, I can’t wait until Judgment Day.” There was beautiful anticipation in her eyes. “Just think, it will only be you and me and all the good people.”

I realized that by “good people,” Lisa was talking about Christians. But Lisa knew everything about my family and me. She had heard all my stories. She knew that I was Sikh. I was confused.

“Where will everyone else go,” I asked, “everyone who isn’t Christian?”

She looked at me startled. “Well, you know, down there.” It was too unpleasant to say out loud.

That’s when I realized that my best friend believed that I was going to hell. She just didn’t know it yet. I had to be the one to break it to her.

“Lisa, you know I’m not Christian, right?”

She went pale.

“But I thought Sikhism was a sect of Christianity." 

“Um, it’s not,” I said.

“Our friendship ended after that,” Kaur writes. She goes on to muse, “Wonder is an admission that you don’t know everything about another. Lisa had stopped wondering about me. She had decided that she knew my fate and had no more to learn.”[4]

Dr. Peter Levine describes trauma as essentially being about “a loss of connection—to ourselves, to our bodies, to our families, to others, and to the world around us.”[5]

“When we wonder,” writes Cole Arthur Riley, “we loosen the cords that restrain our love.”[6]

One of the invitations of trauma-informed engagement with scripture, or trauma-informed engagement with ourselves and each other around scripture, is to reject the idea that love and mutual respect require agreement and full understanding. 

Dr. Jennifer Baldwin puts it this way:

“When we receive the presence of the other with fear, judgment, or condemnation, we make the other an object thereby diminishing the humanity of the person before us as well as our own humanity. When we receive the presence of the other (internally or externally) with compassion, curiosity, courage, and clarity, we see the other as benefit to our collective wellbeing…”[7]


For reflection:

What are some moments of connection or disconnection that stand out for you when you think back on memories involving scripture?

If you have internalized the idea that you have to understand someone before you can decide whether to include them or love them freely, what contributed to the formation of that idea in your journey?

What memory or story or person might you engage with curiosity and courage and compassion today?


Author: Jody Washburn


[1] Ashish Ranpura, “How We Remember, And Why We Forget,”

[2] Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club: A Memoir, page 85.

[3] Philip Yancey, Where the Light Fell, page 125.

[4] Valarie Kaur, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, page 18.

[5] Peter Levine, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body.

[6] Cole Arthur Riley, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us, page 38.

[7] Jennifer Baldwin, Trauma-sensitive Theology: Thinking Theologically in the Era of Trauma.

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