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Reviewed by:
  • Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining by Shelly Rambo
  • Sheila McCarthy (bio)
Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. By Shelly Rambo. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 186pp. $16.50

In this, her first book, Shelly Rambo presents a beautiful exposition on the Holy Spirit's healing presence in the aftermath of trauma. Using the lived experience of an Iraqi veteran and a Hurricane Katrina survivor, Rambo weaves trauma studies, healing, and the Holy Spirit through diverse strands of thought: Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Triduum, and the Gospel of John. While theologians are becoming increasingly interested in trauma, as evidenced by recent books by Serene Jones [End Page 276] (Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) and Jennifer Beste (God and the Victim: Traumatic Intrusions on Grace and Freedom, Oxford University Press, 2007), the focus has been on trauma's challenges to theological understanding. This book takes a step beyond to urge healing through the liturgical practice of the church. Rambo's key insight is that the recurrance of traumatic memory in its refusal to make a clean break with the past—"After the storm is always with us," in the words of a Hurricane Katrina survivor—has some strands of resonance with the cycle of the liturgical year. Liturgy forms and reforms, redeems and heals bodies—not just once, but repeatedly, throughout the liturgical year. Rambo shows how the middle day of the Triduum, Holy Saturday, offers a liminal space for survivors of trauma in their recurrent, if not constant, in-betweenness.

In the liminal liturgical space of Holy Saturday, Rambo offers a pneumatological study of the Triduum, bringing this sacred story to meet the stories of the traumatized. Her interlocutors are Hans Urs von Balthasar, especially his work on Holy Saturday, Adrienne von Spyer, in her mystical experiences of Holy Saturday, and the Passion narrative in the Gospel of John, which was so important to von Balthasar's work. Each of these, to varying degrees, shows the importance of witness, and therefore points to the possibility of using trauma as the key to a theology of redemption rather than a challenge to our theological categories and understandings or a "problem" that theology must navigate. Rambo relies upon two particular sufferers as her primary examples in exploring trauma, even to speak of trauma in general: Deacon Lee, who survived Hurricane Katrina, and Paul Womack, a combat soldier in Iraq. Both persons were exposed to deaths of those with whom they were close, as well as the deaths of strangers.

Rambo notes that Holy Saturday is the least celebrated day of the Triduum. It is an awkward day, one without clear rituals to make one feel aright until the Easter Vigil begins with its liturgy of fire, pressing towards the Alleluias, announcing the Resurrection. On Holy Saturday, one is caught between death and life. Each splashes over into the next such that one often wonders what one should be feeling. Elation? Sorrow? Joy? Terror? The answer, of course, is yes. The liturgical mood of Holy Saturday is one shared by trauma survivors. Survivors of trauma often wonder what they should feel; they are not tapped into their feelings. It is precisely the liturgical awkwardness of Holy Saturday that causes many to skip over the day, or have Easter replace the whole Triduum. Rambo argues that to skip over Jesus' death and go straight to Easter replicates the violence of that death by people unable or unwilling to sit with pain. Trauma survivors who reach out to others are often met with this same uneasiness. Many people are anxious to help find solutions, bring about resolutions to pain rather than simply offering witness and validation. "Everyone is always telling me what to do next," sighed a woman who had been recently raped.

In contrast, witness allows awkwardness without allowing the elision or excising of what may be painful to hear. Rambo writes, "In the aftermath of death, the nature of life is bound to that death as witness" (37). Witness is the hinge linking the shattering and remaking, the undoing and the regeneration; it is the hinge between death and...


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pp. 276-279
Launched on MUSE
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