There's a small group of us that meets on Tuesday mornings as a kind of pre-seminary seminar for young adults discerning a call to ministry. Right now we're reading a book on a mode of therapy known as Family Systems Theory, which basically states that you have to understand a family in order to help an individual. One important facet of Family Systems Theory is the idea that the effects of trauma and grief can actually be passed from generation to generation if they're allowed to go untreated.
This was rattling around in my head on Wednesday night as we gathered for Bible study. Adena was leading us in a fascinating conversation about Genesis 3 - more commonly known as the story of The Fall (when Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden). Leigh, our new Ministry Fellow, shared that when she was growing up this always seemed like a story about shame. There are two chapters prior to this one when Eve and Adam were unashamed. In Genesis 3, that changes. Suddenly they are ashamed of their nakedness. And everything goes downhill from there.
As she was saying these words, it struck me that this was very much an episode of trauma. In the wake of traumatic incidents victims often experience feelings like shame, guilt, and fear. They feel as though their world is coming undone - like everything has changed. That certainly resonates with the experience of this young couple. And this opens the door for thinking about the rest of scripture in a new light. Eve and her partner experience trauma. They are ostensibly the only humans around, so they certainly don't have that trauma treated. Instead, they live with this newfound sense of shame - and probably both guilt and terror in the wake of their eviction from Eden. Those wounds then fester in their family system as they have children - Cain and Abel. According to Family Systems Theory, these wounds would have a profound affect on those two young boys.
We all know what happens next. Cain kills his brother in response to God's apparent favoritism. We often view Cain as willfully violent, without excuse, and even evil. But what if Cain's anger is merely a product of the trauma that has been passed down from his parents? What if, in fact, the unfolding of scripture offers us a stark picture of the effects untreated psychological wounds can have from generation to generation?
Jesus said that he came to bind up the broken hearted, and that he came to give us life and life abundant. Surely that must include healing for the trauma and grief that we carry with us - both that which is handed down from our parents and that which we experience first hand. And this suggests to me that Christ cares deeply about the way that we take care of our mental health - and in fact invites us to be intentional about seeking that care in the same way that we would seek care for our bodies. Which means that we don't just tend to it when we're in crisis, but should strive to care for it each and every day. Perhaps we try to eat healthy and get some physical activities for our bodies. What is the equivalent for our minds? What do you do to care for your emotional health each day?
Jesus' words also suggest that we are called, as disciples, to care deeply about binding up the emotional wounds of others - and tending to those hurts that we pass down from generation to generation. As we mark the 400th year of the first African slaves arriving on America's shores, this call might lead us to think seriously about the way that the trauma of slavery has been passed down through the last four centuries. It might call us to ask questions about how we might participate in the healing of those wounds, so that all of us might have life and have it abundantly.
And all of this might call us to think deeply - really deeply - about how we interrupt the cycles of brokenness that have been passed down to us from generation to generation all the way back to that story of Eve and Adam.