by Barbara Glasson.
As we walked around the airbase with the RAF chaplains we noticed that many of the staff were wearing green lanyards. They signified that the individual was trained in mental first aid. There had been a suicide earlier in the year. The realities of living on the edge of military action, day in and day out, managing ‘ordinary’ life at the same time puts incredible stress on personnel. A course offered by the chaplains was soon oversubscribed, so many wanted to help themselves and others find strategies for coping. The chaplaincy team told us that they were now an integral part of the training process. They offered a module on ‘Spiritual Resilience’ , enabling recruits to find values and meaning within the difficulties of their work. They are clearly a much valued part of the RAF.
Later in the day we went around the museum that houses the vintage planes of the air display team. We learned about the Spitfires and Hurricanes, looked up into the bomb-hold of a Lancaster and were regaled with stories which had been shared by the visiting veterans. I guess nobody had ever helped them to be resilient, they had just returned home and been expected to get on with it. Some talked, many didn’t, some cracked up, others bottled up.
In their book When Blood and Bones Cry Out the father and daughter sociologists John Paul and Angel Jill Lederach discuss the importance of resiliency. They say that no matter the difficulty of the terrains faced by the traveler, ‘they stay in touch with a core defining essence of being and purpose and display a tenacity to find a way back as a way forward that artistically stays true to their wellbeing.[i] The Lederachs posit that this resilience is the way to social healing. Indeed, in my own book A Spirituality of Survival, I have drawn on the importance of resilience in relation to abuse survivors.[ii] I can see the validity of being rooted and grounded in a bigger and more sustaining story than the immediate disruption of trauma. I can see the need to find coping strategies, set appropriate boundaries and resist self-destructive abuse of power. And yet, I wonder.
In his Pastoral letter following the Brexit Bill of 2020 Rev Dr Jonathan Hustler, the Secretary of the Methodist Conference, wrote that our nation needs to find ways to ‘depart in peace’, a sentiment I echoed in an accompanying prayer. Whilst many have expressed their appreciation of both letter and prayer, others have criticised its apparent message of compliance to the status quo. They urge us to resist an attitude that may cause us to hunker down and accept our lot, and challenge us both to lament and continually to campaign for a different way. In other words it is lament not resilience that will change the social order.
Of course, all this is nothing new! The Bible itself shows us both paths. There are those that keep their heads down and find strategies for coping in exile or oppression, and those prophets that resist – and generally get into trouble! We feel this particularly within the Psalms where we hear the guttural cries of those in anguish, and the ‘and yet’ of holding onto God’s bigger vision.
I want to say ‘Yes’ to resilience. I want us to claim the power that keeps us centred and whole. But I also want to affirm that we cannot simply survive, we need to lament the atrocities that surround us and cry in anguish at those things that dismember and disfigure the world. Maybe we need to depart in peace, but not in pieces? Chain ourselves to the fence of the airbase whilst supporting those within it? Hold fast to that which is good, whilst naming that which is structurally or individually destructive?
Maybe resilience isn’t everything? I’d like to know what you think!
[i] Lederach, John Paul and Angela Jill, When Blood and Bones Cry Out (Oxford University Press, 2011), p.70.
[ii] Glasson, Barbara, Spirituality of Survival (Continuum, 2009).