Symposium Introduction

Public conversation about the realities of trauma are now prevalent. This includes not only the #MeToo movement, but also the thousands of American veterans with significant trauma who have returned from recent American wars. Increasingly sophisticated studies of trauma’s biological and neurological effects show that traumatic responses are not due to “nerves” or “shell shock,” as combat trauma was often thought of during earlier conflicts. Rather, it is a real phenomenon with biological, psychological, and spiritual effects.

Shelly Rambo’s first book, Spirit and Remaining, explored how trauma could be a lens through which to read Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus. In Resurrecting Wounds, she pushes her argument further by exploring how trauma reappears in the midst of new life—noting that even the resurrected Jesus has visible scars when he appears to the disciples in the Upper Room. Rambo skillfully examines how wounds are treated in Scripture, in historical thinkers such as Gregory of Nyssa and John Calvin, and in contemporary womanist theologians, in order to constructively explore how theologians might make sense of such wounds. The relevance of her project extends beyond the realm of academic theology, as Rambo explores the way of life with trauma and looks at how healers from outside the Christian tradition use ritual resources to help veterans heal.

Here, an interdisciplinary panel has responded to Rambo’s complex work. John Oliver, a national leader in efforts by the Veterans Administration to care for returning veterans, asks how Rambo’s theology applies to the veterans he has spent years counseling and ministering to. Dirk Lange’s response relates liturgical theology to trauma theory. Lange wonders what connections worship might offer to healing traumatic wounds and how trauma theory might help us understand the wounds of Jesus in a new way. Keri Day, works from the perspective of Womanist theology, asks about how to engage the ongoing reality of racial trauma. Day points to the dangers involved in forgiveness without transformation. Warren Kinghorn, a theologian and psychiatrist with extensive experience in dealing with traumatized veterans, presses Rambo about her account of the church’s role for a specifically Christian account transformation and healing.



Sacred Wounds

In Resurrecting Wounds, Shelly Rambo constructs a thoughtful, well-balanced theological analysis of injury and the wounds such injuries creates. She carefully and thoughtfully weaves contrasting voices highlighting various approaches to engaging, traumatic wounding and the nature of healing. She “re-figures” the story of “doubting Thomas” exploring how various theologians have, due to their own contexts, interpreted this intriguing story of woundedness, witness, doubt and demand.

Rambo does not offer her book as one that concerns pastoral theology and pastoral care. But her work is useful to both disciplines, providing chaplains and other spiritual care givers an imaginative theological framework around which communities that address trauma, healing and the wounds that remain in trauma’s aftermath might be addressed and perhaps redeemed. In covering the expansive theological and theoretical distances between Gregory of Nyssa, John Calvin, Dolores Williams, Virginia Burrus, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Shianne Eagleheart, Rambo astutely approaches wounds and our collective human responses to them. Her engagements also offer an invitation to those who live with and minister to those injured and wounded a lens through which to imagine a new way.

Rambo structures the book highlighting four responses to wounds, including: erasing wounds, touching wounds, surfacing wounds, and discovering wounds. Within each of these chapters, she explores and contrasts different types of wounds ultimately spiraling to responses to present-day complexities of racism and war trauma.

Of interest is Rambo’s focus on the various hues that human wounds (personal/communal; historical/contemporary) take as they are interpreted through different theological and contextual lenses. Rambo explores how Calvin, in his day, viewed wounds as unnecessary, even superfluous, confiding in the word alone being sufficient proof of the resurrection. Rambo highlights how the element of shame conveyed in Calvin’s dismissal of Thomas’ request for a multisensory engagement with the resurrected Christ is a subjugation of wounds (and life experience) to a theological thesis.

Calvin’s move to attempt to erase wounds that did not align with his theological views echoes in the way Jeni Cook, former director of the Veterans Affairs National Chaplain Center describes how many of our current service members and veterans wear “civilian camouflage” when they return home to hide from society. It seems it is easier for many (veterans, service members and our society-at-large) to keep war wounds private in service to a nationalistic narrative of success and victory. The down-playing or outright erasing of the wounds points to our human tendency to objectify others and their wounds to fit our needs.

Distinct from denying the wounds however, is the basic human response of shock. It is normal to avoid acknowledging disorienting events when they first occur. The early “denial” after trauma can serve as a coping mechanism that creates time and space to adjust to the shock of the “new normal.” This early denial can be a healthy response that prompts recalibration and resetting a true reckoning of the events.

In her second chapter, “Touching Wounds,” Rambo explores Gregory of Nyssa’s Holy Sister Macrina’s curious scars. Macrina’s “tattoos” hold the memory of God’s presence in her life and ministry, so rather than wounds suffered after trauma, her wounds are marks of sacrifice and healing. These private wounds, a source of discomfort for Gregory, point Rambo to a brilliant exploration of the construct of “sacrificial wounding” as it differs from “redemptive suffering.” She encourages readers to avoid the easy, but toxic logic of “redemptive suffering” which is most often perpetuated against women and other “heroes” such as veterans who are in this manner called to carry the weight of the world. Rambo carefully juxtaposes Macrina’s sacrifice of holding/tending to an ailing child as distinct from a “redemptive sufferer” standing in the child’s stead. Macrina’s choice/decision to hold and pray for the ailing child God “marks” Macrina’s body with “sacrificial wounds” that are interpreted as “the first thread of her heavenly garment” (48).

Many veterans see themselves as doing what Macrina did; sacrificing life and limb for a country that, in their eyes, seeks to be a light and refuge in the world. Rambo’s challenge for spiritual caregivers is to join the wounded in the unpacking of their individual injuries and wounds while exploring and distinguishing “redemptive suffering” from “sacrificial wounding.” Standing, perplexed in the mystery of the sacrifice, we might all begin to see how God chooses to mark and illumine it.

Rambo’s third chapter, “Surfacing Wounds,” invites us to explore the collective community wound of racism. Rambo describes that an element in the insult of the wounding is the dynamic of forgetting and/or denying the wounding ever occurred (92). The crucial protection enacted by the privileged is an enculturation of the young to “not see” these subjugated wounds. A second protection the privileged use in covering wounds is “soothing over” a wound. This tactic allows the “soother” to avoid addressing the wound at any depth for the other or self. Rambo posits that we begin to take responsibility for the wounds and enable others to respond to the wounds directly. The spiritual caregiver’s challenge is finding ways to address wounds directly rather than binding them or avoiding them completely. This unproductive pattern of managing anxiety (Mueller and Kell) around wounds persists in personal and communal contexts.1

Rambo draws on Michael Rothberg’s diagnosis of how communities often fall into the creation of a “hierarchy of suffering” (95) where suffering is scaled and then judged as worthy of remembrance. This “crooked” way of seeing suffering is addressed when we attend to the texture of each history while still situating it in respect to other histories. Rambo joins with Rothberg in stating that when shared wounds are honestly and humbly approached, the community as a whole can begin to draw connections between the sufferings of peoples. These “links” allow wisdom and resources to be shared across the wounds. The “ongoingness” of wounds is honored as multiple oppression histories meet in the “crossings”; each bearing witness to the other’s terror and truth. A challenge offered in this is exploring ways to invite trauma stories into a community context without re-traumatizing others.

Rambo’s inclusion of Dolores Williams’ construct of “revaluation” invites us to considering how by righting relationships through various methods including touch, we “reanimate life from the ruins” (101) and reinscribe value (and meaning) to the wounds. Reanimating lives from ruins is, however, deeply difficult work. Being the agent of others’ wounding means one may also be carrying the sense of having betrayed moral ground rules, it may mean that an individual has lived for decades without finding or providing forgiveness, it means that reinscribing value / making meaning of the most horrific moments of life is a long and painful journey. Remorse is a painful and treacherous journey.

Rambo offers a keen description of a learning and caring challenge providers have when caring for others; that of “reducing the new to the familiar.”2 Denial of wounding (and learning for that matter) comes often when we seek to make the “new” fit into our comfortable “familiar.” Rambo invites us to see that the persistent “misrecognition” of Jesus post-resurrection is reflected in our culture as the hegemony is unable to understand what they are seeing as due to a stilted “crooked” worldview.

The final chapter, “Discovering Wounds,” delineates the context of returning US veterans as easily objectifiable, monochromatic heroes who have served their usefulness and are now expected to play the role of grateful returnee (see also Ben Fountains’ Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). Using veterans as a paradigm, Rambo invites us to explore how we as a culture (or as humans) find it difficult to imagine that the past returns to those who have experienced and continue to experience trauma.

In this chapter, Rambo highlights Eagleheart’s theory that “hurt goes to hurt,” meaning that the communal experience of sharing wounds invites a new depth perception and perspective on all griefs, even those that seem unconnected. Moving too is the truth that as redemptive as are communities in which trauma work occurs, such as Warriors Journey Home (WJH) described, the work of exploring, touching and naming the wounds is difficult, lifelong, ongoing work (92).

Rambo invites us to see that there is no magic that converts wounds into portals for healing, that the community of the wounded (to which we all belong) can help us see others and ourselves more clearly; that as we touch, hold and honor wounds we revalue ourselves.

As spiritual caregivers move toward honoring wounds of all kinds Rambo invites us to set aside preconceived notions and bring ourselves to truly meet others where they are. She invites us to step into the anxiety, discomfort, embarrassment and woundedness with humility and an awareness that in the sacrificial holding we too may be wounded. Unspoken is Rambo’s hope that spiritual caregivers will know themselves well, will have the capacity to see their own story as linking with others’ stories, will be able to avoid reducing people and events to what is familiar to them and will be able to engage others without competing or insisting that their story be dominant. Unspoken too is Rambo’s hope spiritual caregivers have a support group in which personal wounds, life journeys and injuries will be shared, honored and integrated.

  1. William J. Mueller and William L. Kell, Coping with Conflict: Supervising Counselors and Psychotherapists (New York: Prentice Hall, 1972).

  2. Rudolf Ekstein and Robert Wallerstein, The Teaching and Learning of Psychotherapy, 2nd ed. (New York: International Universities Press, 1972), 142–43.

  • Shelly Rambo

    Shelly Rambo


    Reply to John Oliver

    First, I want to offer special thanks to Aaron Klink. Working at the intersections of healthcare chaplaincy, academic theology, and congregational life, Aaron steeps himself in multiple literatures and continues to remind theologians of all types to account for, and tend to, wounds in our various theological traditions. Thank you, Aaron, for hosting this conversation.

    When wounds surface in public life, what happens? If, and when, the truths of wounds surface, will we be able to receive them? These are the questions I pose to Christian theology, in particular, and ones that I find even more relevant to address in the times in which we find ourselves. I did not know, when I submitted the manuscript in August 2016, how my concerns about our ability to witness (traumatic) wounds would be tested and played out on our national stage.

    Judith Herman’s classic text, Trauma and Recovery, penned twenty-five years ago, could have been written yesterday. One of her motivating factors for writing the book was the image of women appearing in courtrooms speaking truths about past memories of sexual violation and not being believed. The structure of traumatic memory challenges one’s ability to tell the story. The challenges are both internal and external. But if, and when, wounds come to the surface, they are subject to complex dynamics. Herman’s invitation into the study of trauma is an invitation into the complexities of memory and to reexamining what is required for wounds to be recognized, addressed, and healed.

    I am concerned about the role that Christian theologies play in both covering over and surfacing wounds, in inflicting and healing wounds. As a religion with wounds at its center, wound-work is central work for Christians. These scholars, from different angles, capture different aspects of my project and point to trajectories that I did not consider or could not attend to, given the constraints of a book project. They do not contest my indictment of certain strains of Christian theology. Instead, they raise questions about what I offer as “countervisions” (Dirk Lange) to the challenges that I raise.

    John Oliver encourages me to attend to the various stages of wound-recognition that a veteran may experience. Early experiences of shock, as he notes, need to be distinguished from the long-term denial of wounds. The shock response may, instead, be a protective mechanism that ensures survival. This highlights the internal dynamics of trauma, which involve disruptions in adaptive processes that reflect various ways (and stages, as he notes) of coming to terms with the harm that one has experienced. Not all coverings, Oliver reminds me, are negative.

    Rather than presenting a logic of “sacrificial wounding” via Macrina, I understand my reading as calling into question sacrificial wounding as a component of a logic of redemptive suffering. Macrina’s miracle is not sacrificial. Gregory first interprets her life and death in this way, but this strange scene at her deathbed offers a significant reframing. Gregory’s explanations are suspended by this alternative vision told to him by a woman tending the burial practices and focused on the exchanges around Macrina’s undiagnosed illness that involves her mother, Emmelia. The mark of (invisible) suffering is inscribed as blessing. It is an affirmation, I think, of the sacred amidst the exigencies of life. Divine touch (imaged here through the mother and daughter) inscribes the invisible suffering as a blessing, but does not move through the logic of sacrifice to get there. Instead of translating this into a sacrificial logic, I offer a “countervision” that turns us to see the work of care in different terms.

    Because the language of honor and sacrifice is so central to the military and to the veterans—a familiar framing—I would be interested to know from Oliver if those terms can and should be reimagined. I problematize and depart from them, rather than re-inhabit them. While some veterans may state themselves that they recognize their military service as honorable and as a sacrifice that they made for their country, often this language is used by those on the outside and can put pressure on veterans to present their military service in a very particular way. It may be received by veterans as a dismissal of the real struggles that they confront returning from war. The language neither matches what they experienced nor captures the meaning of their military service. Instead of reinforcing this logic, I invite us to intercept it by staying close to the skin—in this case, to the veteran struggles as narrated by the veteran. What theologies arise from the stories? Is superimposing a narrative of sacrifice a burden placed on veterans from the outside? Instead of reinforcing a theology of sacrifice, Macrina and Emelia offer a different vision (of what we might call “wound-care”) which may involve elements of sacrifice but not as an idealized end.

    I problematize them because sacrifice, in the military context, is so wedded to visions of American exceptionalism and America’s civil religion that, in Zoe Wool’s words, they comprise an “unruly economy of patriotism” (101). In her observations of veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, narrated in After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reid, she says, “I want to snag the smooth production of sacrificial value on soldiers’ own unsteady understanding of what has happened, understandings that move away from sacrifice and value and instead hover between notions of work, duty, accident, expectation, and worthiness and the edges of regret” (102). I am seeking, from within theology, expressions of the forms of life that do not easily fold into the logic of sacrifice. And, like Wool, I imagine that lifting this logic from the shoulders of the soldiers may ease a burden and lead to other ways of narrating the realities of war.

    This directly ties to moral injury, which I do not name in my book. Oliver refers to these as the “less-honorable wounds.” How might we revalue these? What is that work? I wonder if opening up various ways of naming harms enacted and witnessed (beyond sacrifice and honor) could provide routes for healing moral injury?

    Because of Oliver’s role at the Durham VA, I was hoping to hear more about how the language of theology might register within the medical setting and what it distinctively adds to the practices of diagnosing and attending to wounds by medical professionals. If we situated the Caravaggio painting of Thomas within the Durham VA, what would it convey about the promise of resurrection for those with whom Chaplain Oliver works most closely? The Warrior’s Journey Home circle is not the only site of veteran healing. How might the VA setting alter the narrative?



Reflections on Shelly Rambo’s Resurrecting Wounds

“A different theological vision arises from a reading of the Upper Room. Spirit and flesh are reconfigured. Truth telling is in service of releasing razors. Sacrificial logic unravels, replaced by a vision of communal care” (140). Shelly Rambo’s challenge to theologians involves a rethinking of the classic resurrection narrative, in fact, a deconstruction (in the sense of a “letting go”) of victory narratives and then inhabiting new countervisions. Countervisions focus on reimagining (seeing anew, seeing differently as Mary does in the garden) the themes of sacrifice, imitation, and reward (in the afterlife). Most significantly, as part of a countervision, is the shift from the necessity of individual sacrifice as salvific to the encounter of salvation (though I would rather say “reconciliation”) in the midst of a community.

This shift in the subject and context and trajectory of meaning places God’s work of reconciliation in the midst of community (context), in the midst of flesh and spirit (subject), with real people and real wounds. Another way perhaps of stating this point would be to say: when we can recognize the many crosses present in the world today rather than covering them up or fleeing from them (106), the discussion of afterlife becomes, curiously, not a discussion of a life “after” this one earthly life but an “after” to the wounds lived here and now. God’s trajectory does not shift our eyes to something in the future but to God’s in-breaking in the present moment, in the midst of wounds held by community.

Engaging Rambo’s powerful rethinking, my own thoughts take me first of all to the cross on which Jesus was executed. In John, we read that when the soldiers “came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out” (John 19:33–34). These are, of course the wounds that Thomas encounters, but there are already two particularly disruptive elements in this account of wound-making and the flow of blood and water.

The wound is inflicted on a body, a lifeless body. It is not instrumental (causing death, for example, nor are they a form of punishment). The apparent gratuity of the act of piercing Jesus’ side points to another dimension that wound/trauma may have. The wound becomes a mark or sign of a life once lived and now (on Good Friday apparently) over. The wound testifies to life rather than being the cause of death, the extinction of life. And this testimony of the wound continues in the next chapter of John’s Gospel when Thomas encounters these signs now in the living Jesus. These wounds actually represent the bridge between one way of seeing (Jesus is already dead) to another way of seeing (Jesus is alive in flesh and spirit). The wounds of Jesus do not heal. They remain. They testify. All instrumentality is taken away from the wounds.

The second surprising realization in the narrative of the piercing happens through the blood and water that flow from Christ’s side. Classical theology has interpreted the blood and water as symbolizing the two major sacraments: baptism (water) and Eucharist (gift of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of bread and wine). These two sacraments have been, of course, understood in varying ways according to different theological heritages but have, generally speaking, been understood to be a sort of participation in the life of the resurrected Christ (whether spiritually or physically or more rationally). What is noteworthy for this discussion of wounds is that these gifts are poured out on Good Friday, while Jesus is still on the cross. They flow from the crucified Jesus and not the risen Christ. What implication does this have for a countervision? These sacramental signs that witness to new creation are present in the midst of death, in the midst of the day of deepest despair. The blood and water flow as life-giving. The wound again testifies in itself to something new already occurring in the midst of death.

The reality of wounds that do not vanish or go away is also the impetus at the heart of the liturgy. Liturgy is a dangerous memory, to borrow an expression from Johann Baptist Metz. Developing this notion in a slightly broader direction, I want to say that the liturgy rehearses the wounds, not in order to eliminate them, bandage them over, find a solution or resolve them, but first of all to continually acknowledge the wounds as part of resurrection.

Unfortunately, the liturgy (or for some the term ‘worship’ may be more familiar), as it is experienced through practice, has also been forced into the framework of classical theology and victory narratives. In its many iterations, liturgy and proclamation can too easily equate the cultural, social, and patriotic values with victory narratives, turning the gospel into a national narrative (xxx) of sacrifice and erasure of wounds, failings, and defeats. Then liturgy becomes merely the bastion of a type of religious culture that gives participants comfort and reassurance and even a sense of identity. It points back to a story, to an event, that it attempts somehow to imitate. Its starting point is the cross as sacrifice and only then resurrection. This trajectory covers over all anomalies, all disruptions, all trauma, all wounds of life. The reward is somewhere far off in an afterlife and in the present, people live in a false assurance, continually reaffirmed by narratives that are not gospel narratives.

On the contrary, liturgy could be the embodiment of the countervision of which Rambo writes. The mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and its reception liturgically in early Christian communities, when read through trauma theory, suggests that the repetition or ritualization is not a facile remembering or a mere representation of an event. It is not simply the remembering of a past event (the cross) through established ritual patterns. The ritualization of this mystery, like the wound, cannot be captured, defined, and therefore controlled. The event—the cross as traumatic event—remains strangely inaccessible and in its inaccessibility directs us to the many crosses people carry today just as in the gospel narrative Christ’s wound bridges the gap between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The mystery continually returns as a resistance to meaning, to constructed narratives, and even to the rituals that attempt to embody it. The Christ event returns as a life-giving force that continually disrupts our usual forms of remembering and ritualizing.

Perhaps one could argue that liturgy and wounds are deeply intertwined. This relation comes to the forefront in Rambo’s discussion of talking-circles, a ritualized activity, a communal activity, that embraces and liberates (122ff.). The Warriors Journey Home places the wound front and center of life and of healing. The liturgy, as ritualized, repetitive action, is a living into the wound, putting one’s fingers into Christ’s side, the releasing of razors, over and over again, witnessing to the in-breaking of God as the wounded one.

Shelly Rambo’s work continually pushes me, a liturgical theologian, to make these connections between a ritualized action and resurrecting wounds, that is, liturgy as a provisional space in which wounds are not overcome but tended to and, in community, in a mutual bearing of one another’s burden, in order to see and to live differently. I am in deep gratitude for Shelly Rambo’s sustained reflections on trauma both theoretically through the channels of the academy but also in the lives of real people, in real situations of crisis.

  • Shelly Rambo

    Shelly Rambo


    Reply to Dirk Lange

    A reading sparks another reading. This is the gift that Dirk Lange extends to me, and it confirms my belief that biblical texts yield rich resources for mapping the complex territory of trauma. Lange, working very much in the literary vein of trauma theory, turns me to an earlier narrative of the curious post-death piercing in the Gospel of John (John 19:32–34), a wound that yields a mixture of blood and water. This death-life fluid from the site of death testifies to “something new in the midst of death.” This wound, inflicted after death, signals a shift from one way of seeing to another. The wound performed via the liturgy becomes a testimony to life and to a life extinguished. The remembrance enacted in the liturgy is not simply a remembrance of Jesus death; it is a witness that holds together cross and resurrection in a particular configuration. The post-death wounds narrate something about how death and life are connected.

    Lange also notes that the infliction of the wound is a gratuitous act. The piercing does not cause the death, because Jesus is already dead. Lange picks up on my concern about reading the wounds as instrumental. This piercing did not bring about the death. Lange suggests that it presents a non-instrumentalist reading whose central message is that Jesus is alive in another way. The side-wound “actually represent a bridge between one way of seeing (Jesus is already death) to another way of seeing (Jesus is alive in flesh and spirit).” The blood and water witness to “a living Jesus.”

    I want to press this further. Gratuity has multiple meanings. Lange’s reading of the gratuitous act of piercing offers a way of thinking about wounds non-instrumentally. But I wonder if gratuity could be read from another angle, as what is unprovoked and uncalled for. Let’s imagine that the purposelessness of the soldier’s performance reveals another face of violence that often deepens the wounds of trauma; it is the obvious disregard for life, for the human, that is revealed here. The fact that the piercing was unwarranted and unprovoked reveals something about the dynamics of violence, i.e., that its purposelessness may deepen the wounds for those who suffer.

    This piercing is inseparable from the economy of violent spectacle. The soldier’s participation in that economy is highlighted here. This is a public display of indifference, disregard, and even mockery. The infliction of wounds to kill Jesus is brought before the Roman authorities and weighed in terms of justice; however unjust that process, those involved stood behind the law. The justifications made it possible to carry out that act. But, here, that falls away. Here, the piercing is performing something else, revealing the careless, perhaps even jocular, actions of a minor figure in the overall crucifixion scene. This is “one of the soldiers” whom we find caught up in a system that not only crucifies but continues to enact the violence in senseless acts. It provides a glimpse into what can often make trauma so difficult: the indifference—and even delight—of those who inflict it. It depicts the ripple effects of violence. The senseless inflictions of harm ripple from the event of crucifixion. It features a wider system of violence, showing the ways in which ordinary people can participate in and perpetuate systems of violence and oppression.

    And yet, even as it performs the ongoing violence, the piercing produces an unusual fluid. The symbol of life, water, is an unexpected product of a wound inflicted gratuitously in this insidious sense. The wound yields something other than the fluid of death. The fact that water flows from the wound, Lange says, has been tied to the sacraments and in various traditions interpreted as a sign of “participation in the life of the resurrected Christ.” Lange wants us, instead, to read the liturgy along the lines of remaining wounds, which ties the liturgy to the crucified Jesus and to the gifts already poured out on the cross. Water and blood flow from the cross. If the liturgy is positioned there, then the sacramental community witnesses from this site.

    If this unusual mixture invokes the liturgy then perhaps it positions the witnessing community amidst the acts of ongoing harm. The liturgy acknowledges not simply a single event of wounds but the multiple instances of wounding that, in my words, keep wounds open. Does the liturgy perform a disruption of the violent wounding cycle that not only remains, but persists? In the liturgy, the countervision is embodied. Instead of the cross sealing and securing faith, the liturgy, Lange states in his own work on trauma theory and liturgy, attests to the disrupted and disrupting of persons of faith taking hold of the cross and clinging to it for security.

    Might this reading open the way for reimagining sacramental witness in the face of such gratuitous acts. Could the liturgy contest the perpetuation of wounds and speak against practices of continuous wounding? This would, I suspect, render liturgy a powerful counter-act to such practices.

    • Avatar

      Dirk Lange


      Reply to Shelly Rambo

      In this challenging response, Shelly Rambo opens up for us again a new perspective on the act of piercing by situating it in the lived experience of the soldier perpetrating the act. That wound, inflicted after death, even beyond death, is not only deconstructing instrumentality, it points to the “purposelessness” of violence, the “disregard for life, for the human” that characterizes oppressive narratives (national or religious). The Roman soldier in the Gospel account suffers the trauma of a violent narrative. I’m grateful to Rambo for grounding us always in that lived reality that cannot be too quickly or easily theologized. The wound after death not only witnesses to the uselessness of violence, it witnesses to a senseless captivity to violence and violent acts, a captivity that shackles everyone.

      In my own work, I have tried to conceive of the liturgy as a question, or more precisely, as the repetition (ritual iteration) of a question: what does it mean for us to survive the death of God? The repetition / sacramental remembering that occurs focuses not on the violence of a crucifixion but on the gift of reconciliation through a shared meal. But if, as Rambo suggests, gratuity can be uncalled and unprovoked then such remembering as pure gift can also be understood as a violent act. The soldier’s act and the flowing of water and blood push towards a reappraisal of gratuity, even grace.

      This reappraisal can happen, I believe, through a historical lens. The passive God, dead on the cross, does not impose the gift of life (or more traditionally the forgiveness of sins) but reveals a promise that is latent throughout history: the end of all violence, that is, the end of all that which would separate and divide people. God’s response to the piercing of God’s side is not a new imposition but a passive witness to a reality that lives beyond violence, beyond death. In the celebration of the sacraments, the community of faith then witnesses to something latent that rejects all forms of violence even the violence of gift.

Keri Day


Rethinking Resurrection in the Face of Trauma

We are living in an age of trauma. Shelly Rambo’s Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma offers a compelling account of how a theology of resurrection can respond to the many traumas (both individual and structural) we face. In particular, her book is not merely an intellectual exercise in restating and affirming orthodox accounts of the cross and resurrection. Instead, she breaks new ground in Christian theology by arguing that we need to imagine new concepts and practices of resurrection if we are to address, in a redemptive manner, the diverse traumas we continually witness.

To understand Rambo’s project, one has to grasp what sits at the center of her conceptual framework: the wound. Rambo centers her own theological understanding of resurrection through the wound. She challenges the standard understanding of “doubting Thomas” in the Gospel of John by arguing that dominant interpretations of doubting Thomas tend to interpret this encounter between him and Jesus as an affirmation of his belief over his previous doubt of the resurrected Christ. As Rambo argues, this dominant interpretation “has come to represent, in modernity, a performance of faith over doubt, of belief over unbelief, and, perhaps most unique to the times, of faith over reason, as Thomas stands as the modern skeptic who is won over by the truth of the gospel” (10). Moreover, classical theologians such as Calvin inadequately discuss the resurrected body in that this body’s spectrality and materiality are only used as a way to teach the disciples about doubt and unfaithfulness. Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Jesus, for Calvin, is only significant in affirming the faith of Jesus as Lord, which is ultimately about grounding faith in an absolute proposition or eternal truth. As a result, Calvin’s interpretation leads to an abstract reading of this narrative, which erases the significance of the wounds that the resurrected Jesus bears. Rambo wants us to sit with the wounds and not foreclose the meaning of Jesus’ appearance. She wants the reader to ask: what else might emerge when we sit with the wounds of Jesus? What if Jesus’ appearance depicts an account of life after wounds, life after death? Linking Jesus’ wounds to our wounds, she suggests that this gospel narrative allows us to confront the wounds that remain with us, which invites us to ponder this question: “What is the promise of life given the ongoingness of “death?” (7). Life is not simply being free from wounds or liberated from forms of social pain and death. Instead, the resurrected Jesus “reveals something about life in the midst of death” (7). This resurrection narrative provides “testimonies to life beyond trauma,” possibilities of new life that can only emerge through engaging the wounds. Rambo’s major contribution is that she offers a different account on the significance of this resurrection appearance between Jesus and Thomas that reconfigures how we think about life in the midst of personal and social forms of tragedy and social despair.

Of particular interest to me is chapter 3, which asks: Can Jesus’ wounds speak to our historical wounds? She extends this conversation of wounding and trauma to the wounds of racism in this country. She wants to argue that this encounter in the Upper Room between Jesus and his disciples is a story about wounds surfacing, testifying to “wounds that have never passed away” (71). Jesus’ wounds entail a history of structural suffering and this history returns to this space, being the Upper Room. Rambo generously employs black liberationist scholars such as James Cone in discussing what shaped the wounds of Christ. In large part, the wounds of Christ are directly connected to the imperial context of the cross. Understanding the wounds of Christ involves understanding the terror and horror of the cross, an instrument of lynching used on an occupied people who desired and worked toward freedom and liberation. To understand the violence of the cross is to understand histories of harm and trauma for a Jewish people. Likewise, histories of suffering and trauma for African Americans remain present in this country. But we attempt to erase or deny the wound. As Rambo reminds us, wounds bring back memories that we often want to forget. White Christian America often denies the ongoing presence of historical racist trauma and wounding. White Christian America forgets that Christianity is “born of a colonial wound” (76). As a result, Christian theology is fashioned though sanitizing, purifying and erasing the wound, leading to a theology that “hovers over the soil of human histories.” Following Willie Jennings’ lead, Rambo wants to firmly root Jesus’ cross and contemporary crosses back into the soil so that we may be able to see how historical histories of racial suffering, harm and trauma continue to cause violence in the present.

In light of the structural and colonized dimensions of Jesus’ wounds, Rambo intimates that Jesus returns to the Upper Room to surface these wounds to his broken community of disciples (broken by Roman imperialism) and to offer redemptive ways forward in light of their wounds. There are two insights that Rambo offers that I was drawn to, points that I want to meditate on and ask questions about.

First, Rambo offers a creative interpretation of a specific action of Jesus, who after showing his wounds to the disciples, breathes on them and says to them to “receive a holy spirit.” She interprets this statement not as receiving the Holy Spirit but a holy spirit, this holy spirit etymologically referring literally to breath. This idea of breath is found in Genesis 2:7 in which breath is understood as making life possible at the most basic level. Rambo interprets this moment as Jesus telling his disciples to “receive breath back again” as they had been deprived of it within the context of colonial fear and imperial lockdown. Under structural oppression and terror, breath becomes short as there is little air. Yet, Jesus wants them to live, to breathe. If the disciples are to be commissioned (sent out) to be Jesus’ witnesses, they will need life, they will need to breathe. She relates this to the Age of Ferguson in which this insight is echoed by Eric Garner’s words, “I can’t breathe.” Systems of racial oppression shorten breath, but Jesus shows his wounds to help them engage their own wounds in efforts of resurrecting their own belief in God’s ongoing work in their lives. This moving forward involves them being able to breathe in order to do the work they have been commissioned to carry forth. And this ability to breathe is the work of the spirit. Moreover, through John 20:23, Rambo draws a connection between the need to breathe in relation to the practice of forgiveness. She argues that holding on to the sins of others literally drains you, it takes away breath (82). For oppressed communities to persistently internalize racism in all of its insidious forms is like being out of breath. Rambo maintains that for the Gospel of John, forgiveness is directly tied to the somatic experience of breathing when trauma takes breath away.

This raises a curious point for me: the question of forgiveness within this country. For certain, I take it that Rambo is exploring the deleterious psycho-social effects of racial pain and wounding on oppressed communities. For healing to be a possibility, such wounding cannot go unaddressed or live inside of marginalized individuals without recourse to mending and healing. I agree here. However, I wonder how we speak about forgiveness in an age where forgiveness is used as a tool of political calculation, a way to reinforce trauma through denying structures that make the wound possible. For instance, when the 2015 Charleston shooting in South Carolina occurred, the surviving black church members almost immediately announced that they forgave Dylan Roof, the white male gunman and terrorist. The problem is not that these exercised their own agency in relation to acts of forgiveness. Rather, I am concerned with how this question of forgiveness becomes a moral demand or imperative placed upon black people on how they should respond to flagrant racist assaults. The American media lauded these Charleston black church members for forgiving a white supremacist. Unfortunately, this expectation of forgiveness is then used to measure how other black communities should forgive forms of racial violence. In fact, the Charleston church members’ actions to forgive were directly used to condemn the Black Lives Matter movement as angry and violent, the antithesis of this forgiving church community. What is lost here? What account of living beyond the wound through forgiveness can one offer that will not be in service to these kinds of gross political calculations?

A second insightful point was how Rambo situates the affections and the body in relation to the wounds we experience and what this means for forms of new life. Jesus’ wounds involve an affective and somatic experience. His body holds the memory of his suffering as well as collective suffering (Jews who resisted Rome). Rambo states that the return of Jesus’ wounds “indicates that this memory-work will take place on the ground and on the surface of skin” (89). The communal work of remembering and engaging wounds is an affective and enfleshed practice. This means that recognizing and addressing wounds is not simply a cognitive practice but a practice of body and flesh, a practice of linking experiences, feelings and histories to particular bodies that have been traumatized and now must find a way to creatively move forward. I agree with Rambo in theory on this point, but I am wondering what does this insight practically look like? Attending to racial wounds in this country does involve transforming how white America (and its churches) morally see and engage black bodies, but how might this practically play out, given Rambo’s idea of “memory-work”? Could Rambo offer a more full-throated account on this particular insight?

Rambo has offered a highly creative understanding of Christian resurrection that transforms and even explodes certain assumptions associated with orthodox accounts. I am grateful she has written this text and look forward to seeing how it shapes the field of Christian theology and ethics on questions of structural trauma, injustice, and liberation.

  • Shelly Rambo

    Shelly Rambo


    Reply to Keri Day

    Violent histories live on. They do not simply go away. Keri Day hones in on chapter 3 in which I attempt, as she says, to give theological expression to the fact that “histories of suffering and trauma for African Americans remain present in this country.” It was so clear to me, in studying trauma, that James Cone’s call to bring together the crosses of history and the ancient cross of Jesus together, and Delores Williams’ challenge to the surrogate figure of the crucified Jesus, were prescient theological projects that carried, within them, the weight of violent histories that did not simply go away. Cone, more directly, questioned whether there would be a reckoning with these histories and what that would entail for white Christian America.

    While Day is right that, on one level, I follow Willie Jennings’ lead, to “firmly root Jesus’ cross and contemporary crosses back into the soil,” the phenomenon of trauma makes any simple return impossible. Instead the problem of traumatic suffering is that the past is not in the past. The image of the traumatic “flashback” suggests that the past flashes into the present precisely because it was not registered as past. It breaks into the present and is evident in traces, in fragments, in images.  Thus, we meet the past soil in the present soil. Traumatic memories do not register the same as other memories. They are non-declarative and reside in the limbic system, the fight/flight part of the brain. They return as body memories. The crisis of trauma signals an impossibility of returning to the past; instead, the past comes forward precisely because it was never registered as such. It is alive in the present. A person is not remembering the past, as if pulling from the somewhere back in time to recall it; one is reliving that past, because the experience was not assigned context. The problem of temporality is at the root of trauma. So, the soil, if understood in light of trauma, is not directly accessible. The path to the past is never direct. In some cases, the path is washed out.

    What makes the vision of the Upper Room so unique is that it is a vision of the past returning with intention. The crucified Jesus returns not simply as a figure of traumatic repetition, but as a figure whose return also marks a departure—a departure into life. The crucified Jesus brings the past into the present, in order to make a future possible. In this room, the confrontations with the past and all of the complexities play out. Here, new terms are set on sight and touch; new conditions are set for the room. The intentional container of this room means that multiple realities are coming into contact. The Upper Room is both a crooked room, locked in the logic of “gross political calculation.” And yet it is also a room in which the disciples are being trained to see and to move differently. It is a haunted room in these two respects. The past returns, along with its lock-down logic. That logic still has a grip on the disciples when we meet them. But the room is also opened up to a new way of configuring life. And what Jesus brings to the fore is precisely the way they have participated in the economies of fear that lead to his crucifixion. Unless and until that logic ceases to have a grip on them, they will continue to participate in the covering over of wounds. The participation is not the same, and the consequences bear out very differently.

    The reorientation to wounds makes this Upper Room a dangerous and courageous space of reckoning. The new terms and new conditions are not specified. This community will be attentive to the particular ways in which histories are covered over. It will recognize those acts and desires in themselves (thinking here of the image of Thomas insisting on access to wounds) and find ways of holding persons accountable. It will register the asymmetry of power within the room.

    So where does forgiveness fit in? Forgiveness is underarticulated in the book. I only mention it in the second half of the book and, as Day notes, in ways that do not account for the political calculations at play in forgiveness. If we start with Michael Garner’s words, “I can’t breathe,” that signals the distorted politics of this room, then how do we interpret the statements about forgiveness in John 20:23? Does the scene make it mandatory for those whose breath has been taken away to offer forgiveness? No. And yet my line of interpretation could be, as Day points out, equally problematic. In linking the somatic experiences of breath to forgiveness, am I suggesting that the spirit in offering breath to those whose breath has been taken away, makes it possible for them to forgive? Continuing with this, the spirit fortifies and strengthens them to do the unimaginable. In other words, God gives to those who have lost their breath (through the violence of others), new breath and the power to forgive regardless. The calculations are in no way disrupted by this reading, since it merely offers a way of saying that God will give oppressed communities strength to go on. In this trajectory, forgiveness fits nicely within the economy of the crooked room.

    Day provides the example of black church members in the aftermath of the Charleston shootings. They immediately forgive Dylan Roof. And this act of unconditional forgiveness feeds into the notion that black communities should forgive the harm done to them no matter what. The moral imperative to forgive the killer circumvents real demands for accountability and justice. In fact, Roof’s writings in prison reject forgiveness from the offset: “I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry.” We are aware that Roof’s actions are situated within a wider socialized system of racism. Forgiveness as an interpersonal exchange between perpetrator and victim does not adequately meet the systemic dimensions operating here. With all of what we know about insidious trauma (which is a way of accounting for trauma, not as a single event, but as the conditions of existence that make certain persons vulnerable to harm simply because of their identities, i.e., sexism, racism, hetero-sexism, ableism), theologies of forgiveness have not expanded to effectively take the systemic dimensions of harm into account.

    The struggle that I have with forgiveness is that it is so deeply inscribed into the Christian imagination that it is challenging to loosen the grip of this term. I think the mandate to forgive represents that tight grip. I was thinking of early feminist theologians who debated whether the central concepts of Christianity could be life-giving for women. Could they be redeemed from their patriarchal histories and opened up and re-inhabited differently? I feel similarly about forgiveness. The prescriptions about forgiveness are intolerable when played out in particular communities without regard for power differentials. Reimagining forgiveness is one of the challenges. Perhaps Jesus directs his teachings to forgiveness because it is so open to distortions, because it can only be approached if the wounds are seen and touched. “Cheap” forgiveness is what is enacted above the soil as a logic that allows the “gross political calculations” to remain in place.

    So, let me offer some notes toward a theology of forgiveness. If the past is brought forward and wounds are surfaced, then the terms of forgiveness are critically important. This turns me back to the statement that follows the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). To loosen the grip, I want to read the second clause descriptively, as what sets the terms for the work in the Upper Room. If the sins of others take hold in you—if the harm enacted against you comes to live inside you—(a truth of trauma), then it is in you. Held there. It speaks to how the past manifests, takes hold, and resides within us. Trauma speaks to the real hold that events of harm have on us, right down to the neurobiology of trauma. Shianne Eagleheart refers to these as the razors that enter and reside us, eating us from the inside but difficult to release, because the conditions of their release may be perilous. Bridging chapters 3 and 4 here, one of the fears of releasing the razors is that one is not assured that “the room” will be receptive to them. It is not safe to release them.

    But what if this Upper Room is a holding space. The room itself is reconfigured as a retainer, in which to do challenging memory work. The marks of suffering return in the figure of the crucified Jesus. And his reworking of their ways of seeing and touching sets new terms for how harms are addressed. They cannot be simply passed over. The resurrected Christ is not immediately recognized by those most familiar to him. (This is true here, and also in the Emmaus road account.) In my reading, Jesus doubles back to their problematic ways of seeing—or unseeing—wounds. He teaches them to stay with difficult truths. But this staying means that neither the impact of harms done nor the harms enacted will be quickly dismissed. The space of the Upper Room holds the memories of these sins. To hold “sins” within such spaces means: (a) sins should not be wiped away instantaneously; (b) they are not held alone; (c) there is attention paid to the conditions in which the truths of past harms are held. This second half of the statement may point to the necessity of holding certain sins there, precisely because they have not been acknowledged or brought to light.

    If we read with trauma (studies), then it is an invitation to difficult memory-work. But whose work is it? I emphasize the varying contexts in which wounds are surfacing, so the conditions of the room must be uniquely named. Not all wounds are the same. And we need stopgaps for when these conflations and foldings that happen; a common one happens in mandates of “quick forgiveness.” The rush to show the magnanimity of Christianity when, in practice, it capitulates to the logic of white supremacy, means that wounds have been instrumentalized into a death-dealing economy.

    I begin to imagine this memory-work as the work of the Spirit. While deeply contextualized, the contours of this retaining (and releasing) room may be described in a three-fold combination of testifying, discerning spirits, and spiritual disciplines. And the pace of this work may turn us to the Pentecostal notion of tarrying, which is both affective and also a term that signals a delay, but also a lingering in anticipation. If we develop these theologically-rich concepts and practices, might they provide a more “full-throated account” of what is needed to heal historical wounds? I end here, because now I have set my foot in a territory that Day knows well.



“Within Your Wounds Hide Me”

Longing for the Trinity in Resurrecting Wounds

Shelly Rambo’s Resurrecting Wounds has forever changed the way that I will encounter the Gospel of John’s Upper Room narrative (John 20:19–28). It will henceforth be for me the story of a haunting. Just as Rambo’s earlier Spirit and Trauma, dwelling with John’s narrative of the disciples at the empty tomb, focused on the disciples’ inability to see clearly, so also her reading of the Upper Room powerfully teaches readers that “the Johannine text is not a place of simple seeing but a site of complex and layered remembering” (37). John’s resurrected Jesus is simultaneously spectral and fleshly. He passes through a locked door, bids peace to the gathered disciples, and shows them his wounds. When the disciples rejoice at seeing him, he says again, “Peace be with you,” suggesting that they have somehow not seen in their seeing, and breathes on them a holy spirit. When Thomas insists in Jesus’ absence that he will believe only by putting his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side, this spectral Jesus again walks through a locked door and, in a very unghostly way, commands Thomas to plunge his hand into his ribs. Thomas, in Rambo’s reading, wants to touch Jesus’ wounds as a mode of verification, as a way of asserting control over the wounds—but Jesus, granting Thomas’ request, also subverts it. Jesus does not allow Thomas to stop, contentedly, at verification. He asks Thomas to engage his wounds: “the wounds of history are returning on this marked body, and that history is brought forward in such a way that believing is inextricably linked to engaging those wounds” (83). Engaging wounds is not a matter of cognition only. It is affective work, and it is hard. It requires feeling one’s own capacity to wound, and to be wounded. We do not know how Thomas responds to Jesus’ invitation to touch his wounds. Nor, Rambo points out, do we know whether Thomas, when he cried “my Lord and my God!” was engaging Jesus’ wounds or distancing himself from their affective and moral force (94).

Rambo argues that like those disoriented, gathered disciples, Christians since that first Easter have struggled to plunge our hands into Jesus’ wounds and to feel their weight. She suggests that much—maybe most—of Christian theology and biblical exegesis has functioned to enable Christians to avoid this hard “wound-work.” Jesus’ appearance in the Upper Room, losing its spectrality, is read as a scene of joyful reunion. Jesus’ breathing of pneuma hagion, holy breath, losing its ethereality, is read as a teaching on the Trinity. Jesus’ encounter with Thomas, losing its macabre fleshliness, is read as a cautionary tale of (cognitive) doubt and (cognitive) belief. Jesus’ wounds recede into either invisibility or, more dangerously, into instrumentality. The wounds become a means to lead Thomas from doubt to belief. Or, in substitutionary and sacrificial theories of atonement, they become the instruments but not the determinative loci of human salvation. Or, all too commonly, they have provided a narrative context for the legitimization of the wounding and suffering of the disempowered, whether of women or of African Americans or of colonized peoples or of these and other intersections of oppression. In light of this interpretive history, Rambo argues, it makes sense that many contemporary theologians (e.g., Jürgen Moltmann, James Cone, Delores Williams, Rosemary Radford Ruether) would “[contest] a dominant narrative of wounds as the means by which redemption is enacted” (6). But reading the Gospel of John, Rambo urges Christians to interpret the cross redemptively not by focusing on what happened on the cross but rather on the forms of life made possible after the cross, in the spectral, fleshly “afterlife” of resurrection: “instead of reaffirming the way of the cross, there is a need to imagine ways of resurrecting” (8). Just as the disciples in the Upper Room faced the challenge to leave the locked Upper Room, led by holy spirit to engage the “crossings” of woundedness, so also Jesus’ followers today are called by this revealing spirit to engage wounds:

Instead of covering over their wounds with sacred bandages, a different telling of the story turns the disciples to wounds, both to examine the hold of a certain logic on them and to invite them to touch wounds, to bring to life what the world deems of little value. Newly resourced in this space, they will embody new ways of gathering and develop new articulations of how to live. Amid the ruins, they enter the wilderness. (107)

Rambo displays a deeply moving capacity to dwell carefully and patiently in the biblical text, and there is breathtaking consistency between the content and mode of her analysis in Resurrecting Wounds. Her exhortation to attend to holy spirit that surfaces hidden wounds is enacted in the way that patiently, slowly, attentively, she tends the soil of John’s gospel (as well as that of Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Macrina and Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St. Thomas), uncovering the wounds at its center that have long been covered by Christian bandages of control. Her short sentences and copious use of passive voice make reading this book about spectrality and haunting itself a spectral, haunting experience. In Resurrecting Wounds, as in her broader work, Rambo assiduously closes off wide controlled-access highways of theologizing and detours readers onto narrow roads that, more dangerous but more connected to land and soil and history, force travelers to dwell with trauma and, in doing so, to encounter buried but valuable truths. She does not want Christians to settle for easy or comfortable answers, since such answers can too easily elide or evade wounds. She beckons us to be disoriented and unsettled, like the disciples the Upper Room, living in the afterlife of resurrection.

In an age of Ferguson (and Charleston, Charlottesville, and so many other places), #MeToo, Trumpism, and rising rates of death from opioid overdose and suicide, when deep wounds are surfacing publicly and defenses against these wounds are rampant, Rambo’s work is needed for the church. I appreciate her insistence that Christians—particularly white Christians—must dwell at the site of wounds and not move toward theological strategies that keep these wounds covered. And yet, I worry that Rambo’s mode of argument excludes or at least neglects witnesses within Scripture and theology that could provide her project with more strength and power.

Resurrecting Wounds is in part a work of ecclesiology (151–52). But this ecclesiology is correlative to particular accounts of Christology and pneumatology. The risen, spectral, fleshly Jesus appears to the disciples, bids them peace, and breathes on them a holy spirit. Rambo neither affirms nor denies that this holy spirit is the Holy Spirit of Christian trinitarian affirmation, but she prefers an “undetermined spirit” that “[fosters] attentiveness to particular memories, particular histories” (90). This spirit “as memory bearer carries forward the spirit of a place, a situation” (90). This spirit’s work then forms a particular account of church: “as Christians turn and return to this story, they confront this particular history (the Jesus of history) and also claim its power to speak to the ongoing crosses of history (the Christ of faith)” (90–91). The church is that group of people who, having encountered the Jesus of history and carried by the wound-surfacing spirit, go forth to dwell amid the contours of wounds.

This account of Christ, spirit, and church provides a theological context within which to approach Rambo’s contemporary example of wound-work: Warriors Journey Home (WJH;, an Ohio-based nonprofit organization that engages healing circles to promote storytelling, support, and healing among US combat veterans. Rambo relates meaningful stories of healing among veterans and their families that have emerged from the WJH circles. But readers who have been following Rambo’s argument as a work of Christian theology will notice something that is perhaps a bit unusual: though it is hosted in a church and has a Protestant minister as its founder and co-facilitator, WJH is not distinctively or specifically Christian either in its model of healing, its ritual practices, or its self-description. Its rituals, which include soft drumming, burning and smudging of white sage, the passing of a healing stick, and evocation of Great Spirit, are “earth medicine” practices introduced to the group by co-facilitator Shianne Eagleheart, a Seneca ceremonial healer and licensed psychotherapist (116–21). Among WJH participants, Christianity “is not readily recognized as a healing tradition; . . . in fact, it is often seen as an obstacle to drawing veterans into the circle” (125). Rambo comments that “perhaps WJH members who have been familiar with Christianity in some form expect little to nothing from that tradition” (125). She cites Protestant minister and WJH co-facilitator John Schleup, stating that for Rev. Schleup

The absence of attention to bodies, to the somatic, is where Christianity misses the mark. It appeals to the frontal lobe but misses a basic insight about trauma—that it lodges in the body. John acknowledges the dissonance in the religion that he represents, and he is not defensive. He is just hopeful that there is more. The teachings of Jesus become a container for John’s work. He takes big terms like “salvation” and “redemption” and ties them more closely to the life of Jesus. Salvation really means healing, he insists, and not a “get out of hell free card.” (125)

Rambo acknowledges that some of the Christian participants in WJH circles struggle to reconcile its ritual practices with Christian faith (132). But it is in many ways a perfect incarnation of the ecclesiology of Resurrecting Wounds. Those who bear wounds, centered on the life of Jesus and animated by undetermined spirit, transcend the bandages that Christianity has applied to wounds (“the language of belief falls away”; 133) and gather in healing community to engage and salve wounds.

Warriors Journey Home displays an innovative and powerful model of veteran healing, and those of us who seek to support combat veterans can learn much from their ritual practice, non-judging stance, commitment to truth-telling, and cultivation of group healing. But with no disrespect to WJH or to traditions of earth medicine—I have no reason to doubt its capacity to facilitate trauma healing among combat veterans—I lament that any pastor or Christian congregation, seeking to promote the healing of combat veterans, would find traditional Christian practices so unhelpful and lacking that a turn to earth medicine is necessary. There are Christian practices and resources that neither Schleup nor Rambo engage, that if developed would potentially enable participants in programs like WJH to find within Christian tradition what they are currently finding only by looking beyond it—and therefore to more imaginatively and intimately engage Jesus’ wounds.

Why does Rambo never engage any of Paul’s writings in Resurrection Wounds? It is of course her prerogative, if she wishes, to focus on the Johannine and not the Pauline corpus: this omission does not threaten the internal consistency of her project. And to be sure, interpretations of Paul’s writings have contributed across Christian history not only to unhealthy dualisms of flesh and spirit but also to justifications of wounding. But no Christian theology of wounds can discount Paul entirely. Paul seems to be at least one early disciple who took Jesus’ wounds seriously, who did not avoid them, in part because he had been involved in wounding (diókó, persecuting, hunting down) those whom he later understood to be part of Jesus himself (Acts 9:4; Gal 1:13; 1 Cor 15:9). Paul came to interpret his own wounds within Jesus’ wounds: “I carry the marks [stigmata] of Jesus branded on my body” (Gal 6:17). In Paul we find a Christology that is not just paradigmatic but also participatory: believers are exhorted not just to see, touch, and learn from Jesus’ wounds but to immerse and to enfold themselves into Christ’s wounds, finding their life in his crucified, resurrected, ascended body (Rom 6–8). Paul goes on to say that Jesus’ followers are that wounded body, bearing each other’s wounds as members of a common body (1 Cor 12). Salvation for Paul is certainly “healing”; but more than that, to be saved is to be folded, wounds and all, into the life of the triune God, known and held in intimate, loving care (Gal 4:6–7, Rom 8:15–17). I wonder, then: if Rambo’s goal is to engage Christians in more intimate encounter with wounds, why not go through the Apostle Paul, or at least in conversation with him, rather than around him?

Related to this, in her reading of John Calvin’s commentary on John 20, Rambo rightly critiques Calvin’s insistence that Jesus’ wounds disappear after the apostles were convinced that he rose from the dead, which does not appear in the Johannine text. Citing the work of Julie Canlis, she argues that this stands in tension with Calvin’s insistence on Christ’s physicality not only in resurrection but also ascension (32).1 Rambo laments Calvin’s extrabiblical insistence that the wounds disappear after resurrection as a missed opportunity, particularly given Calvin’s extensive use of the metaphor of engrafting, which implies and entails wounding. She imagines a road not taken for Calvin:

Transposed through the Spirit, the wounds could figure a new aspect of resurrection. If the work of the Spirit is to engraft believers into the life of God, then the wounds of resurrection could function meaningfully in Calvin’s thought, without erasure. Wounds could be carried forward and drawn into a new moment. The wounds could have an afterlife. (35)

This richly trinitarian account of the salience of post-resurrection wounds would indeed be theologically and pastorally powerful. And indeed many Christians have embraced something like this account, particularly within Roman Catholic practices: I think in particular of the medieval anima Christi prayer, with its evocative imagery of the wounds of Christ moving progressively inside the subject, until one finds oneself enfolded into them: “O Good Jesus, hear me / Within your wounds hide me.” Calvin did not embrace this, Rambo suggests, in part because he was eager to avoid Catholic material piety and carnality. That is too bad. But curiously, after imagining this different future for Calvin, Rambo does not embrace this trinitarian path either. After critiquing Calvin by use of Canlis, she stops engaging ascension and sets forth a not-explicitly-trinitarian pneumatology and Christology with a diffuse ecclesiology that, in the end, finds Christian ritual practices wanting and embraces healing practices drawn from another spiritual tradition. And so I wonder: is this a missed opportunity also?

  1. Julie Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

  • Shelly Rambo

    Shelly Rambo


    Reply to Warren Kinghorn

    Warren Kinghorn’s attentive review emphasizes parts of the book that matter most to me, while also pointing to conceptual points that continue to vex me. He notes that there is “a breathtaking consistency between the content and mode of her analysis.” How to write about trauma has always been for me a question of writing itself. The posture of attending to wounds must be matched by the posture of my prose. This picks up on methodological aspects of the project that are not explicitly articulated but nonetheless enacted in my exploration of wounds. Certain configurations of language (the prose itself) can cover over the phenomenon. Wendy Farley referred to my mode of analysis as a kind of “slow theology,” which suggests that the writing—and reading—of Resurrecting Wounds requires a distinctive posture. Although I often feel the pressure to be a faster writer, I have come to recognize that the subject of my writing sets its own pace, which often ends up looking much more like a spiritual practice than a writing exercise. I return, again and again, to Simone Weil’s essay on “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” for guidance; the aim, she says, is not mastery of a phenomenon. Instead, the aim is to surface truths that are difficult to surface. How to convey the complex dynamics of uncovering and surfacing wounds in writing is one of the challenges for those who write about trauma. This is why, I think, my work is often described as theopoetics.

    The indictment of Christianity as participating in the covering over and erasure of wounds rings clear. And yet Kinghorn raises serious questions about what I offer to a Christian theology of resurrection as a corrective. He particularly notes the rich resources within Christianity that remain untapped and questions whether I cede the final word on resurrection to an undefined spirit and, as several veterans in the WJH group, to the rituals of other traditions. The placement of the Warriors Journey Home chapter at the end of the book gives it conclusive weight. It was certainly the case that the power, as narrated to me by the Stronghearts I interviewed, of healing was more palpably felt through the rituals provided by Shianne than through the Christian tradition. One of the key insights of comparative theology is that attentive work in another tradition may open up avenues to return to one’s tradition to hear it anew. Perhaps I have only turned the corner here, without providing an alternative route for a resurrection theology within Christianity. Kinghorn says that my analysis of WJH is “in many ways a perfect incarnation of the ecclesiology of Resurrecting Wounds.” He goes on to say that I have provided a picture of a community that “transcends the bandages” that Christian theology places over wounds; this is a community, and a vision of church, that provides salve (salvation, a healing ointment). And yet I do not name it as such. He suggests that I miss the obvious eccesiological yield of my readings. Is this intentional? Is it a failure to see? What is going on there?

    Kinghorn suggests that there are natural turns to ecclesiology and trinitarian thought that I do not take, which means that the vision of community that I offer through the WJH circle stops short of speaking to the Christian communities that I most want to effect with my theological work. Have I departed, perhaps unwittingly (a term used frequently in trauma theory), from this audience? Do I miss opportunities to revalue the tradition that I seek to reshape? Yes, perhaps. But I have always approached the work of trauma and theology as a response to the interdisciplinary exploration that Cathy Caruth invited scholars into by way of the edited collection, Trauma: Explorations in Memory. There, she urges scholars to work at the edges of their disciplines, to listen for the truth that trauma speaks. This is the theological trajectory of literary theory that understands the language of theology as that of witness and testimony. I see the work that I do as contributing to the reimagination of doctrines, but not for the sake of Christian theology alone. Kinghorn has me thinking about what I potentially lose by working at the edges of systematic theology in this way.

    My original intention was to return to John Calvin to pick up precisely with a constructive pneumatological reading from the site of the wounds. But publication deadlines are real, and some chapters-in-progress did not make it into this book. I will provide just a glimpse here: Within Calvin’s theology are seeds for a different reading of wounds. Here I am picking up on Caruth’s insights from trauma theory that suggest that reading Freud’s theory belatedly yields more than Freud knew (that the transmission of what is not fully known is enacted in the theory itself); thus, Calvin cannot simply be a straw-man for erasing wounds but, instead, has within his own reading of this scene, a testimony to engrafted life (36). Just as Macrina’s marking is both the product of a wounding and a healing, so, too, are the marks of “being engrafted into Christ.” It is not difficult to see that this identity, conceived pneumatologically with the Spirit as the thread that stitches the believer to Christ, could provide a vision of church as a mending community. Instead of an afterlife unfettered by wounds, perhaps Calvin’s metaphor provides a route to reclaim a fettered afterliving. A constructive theological reading of this moment in Calvin offers a vision of life—“not straightforward life” (Unclaimed Experience, 74)—but one that reimagines the Spirit’s binding together the love between Father and Son (Augustine’s, On the Trinity) through the cross-event: the Spirit, as the love that survives a death, threads together what has been rent, a rending that expresses a truth about the divine life. Engrafting is not simply a new identity that believers receive; it is also a truth about God pro nobis (invoking Catherine LaCugna’s powerful work on the “practical Trinity,” which she intended to develop into a robust pneumatology).

    What energizes me, in reading Kinghorn (and the other contributors), are the ways in which they surface aspects of my work that I did not see while I was writing. Theories of trauma incorporates such “missings” into the theorizing process, as a way of suggesting that the practice of reading, writing, and interpretation is collective.