Our Living Compass team recently had the chance to be a part of the National Episcopal Health Ministry’s annual conference, an event which brings people from all over the United States together who are engaged in a wide range of healing and wellness programs. The group included parish nurses, chaplains, clergy, pastoral care nurses, health ministers, addiction specialists, and others committed to a wholistic approach to health and wellness in a wide variety of contexts.
Both last year, and this year, the conference included a special presentation by the Rev. John Sippola, one of the co-authors of a book entitled Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal, an outstanding text about caring for veterans and their families. (Learn more about the book at http://welcomethemhomebook.com/?page_id=16) . One of the unique contributions of this book is its focus on how war impacts the soul of a veteran. In honor of Memorial Day, I want to share with you a few things I have learned from John in hopes that it will help us all more fully appreciate the sacrifices that veterans make on our behalf.
The way any of us make sense of our lives is grounded in our faith and/or our spirituality. Our faith and spirituality ground our sense of meaning in life as well as how we make moral and ethical decisions. When life is going along in a “normal” and predictable manner this usually works just fine for us. When life gets complicated though, when trauma or loss come unexpectedly, when people around us behave in ways that are immoral and seemingly evil, then suddenly we may find that our faith and spirituality no longer “hold” our life together in the same way. John Sippola and the other authors of Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal, have a name that for what happens when a person’s soul is afflicted by such trauma–they say that such a person has suffered a moral injury.
According to the Veteran’s Administration, “events are considered morally injurious if they ‘transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.'” (You can leam more at http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/moral_injury_at_war.asp). While moral injuries can affect anyone, clearly veterans are at a higher risk for such injuries because of the trauma to which they have been exposed.
Much has been written about caring for the physical and emotional wellness of veterans and so now it is good to see that the spiritual wellness of veterans is being take seriously, too. And when it comes to the spiritual wellness of veterans you and I have a very important role to play–a point made very strongly by the authors of, “Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal.” When a person has a wounded soul and is suffering from moral injury, they will most likely isolate themselves and pull away from others out of a sense of shame and guilt. Such a person needs us as individuals, families, neighbors, and faith communities to reach out to them, to let them know how much we appreciate their service and to give them an accepting place to talk about what they have experienced. This reaching out is what helps veterans, or any one with a wounded soul, to heal–one conversation at a time.
Memorial Day began as a day to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for our country. Today we can also expand its meaning to include those who have given a part of their soul to serve a greater good. It is also a good time to remember the important part we play in welcoming veterans back into our families and communities. For when we truly welcome them home in the widest sense, we help them heal, and we continue to heal as well, making the entire community stronger as a result.