Thursday, June 9, 2011

How can we possibly link "Saint" Paul to such anxiety as in PTSD?

The question naturally arises, why link the great apostle with what is regarded as a mental health condition? The issue hangs on the “D” of PTS, I think. Did the Paul we honor have what we today know as a “disorder”? The problem to some degree rests with how broadly a person has considered that New Testament phrase, “the Word was made flesh.” My suggestion is that the theological melody on display is in several keys; not only as a “was” in the phrase, but an “is.” Some persons will be uncomfortable with the challenge to think more broadly; some will find enjoyment in having a new perspective to consider.

A less theological and more historical answer to the question is that this perspective on Paul seems  at this distance of time as clear an explanation as we are apt to get of this, or any other, famous personality . My suggestion is that we take the life story, as best we can understand certain aspects of that ancient tale, and compare those aspects to the characteristics with which we now associate with the post-traumatic condition.

The outcome is less “true” or “false” but rather adequacy and inclusiveness of the cues we have and the usefulness of that perspective. It seems to me that when you metaphorically have such a “diamond” as the Apostle Paul, that the way to appreciate it is to turn it this way and that way to catch the brilliance of the many facets.

There is no question of the fame of that Apostle, nor of his impact on the history of the world. There is always the inevitable question of including the negative, as well as the positive, about any historical figure. Two negatives stand out. These have to do with the relationship of Christians and Jews and the issue of the place of women in the Church – and society.

Flashbacks are usually what jumps to mind as the predominant characteristic of PTSD. That would be true, if you have PTSD. What comes readily to mind of those around someone with that eruptive suffering is, however, the rage, frequently without boundary or focus. It is not just being irritated or mad about something. It is the being periodically enraged rather than chronically hostile. It is this we see all too often in bar or in home, sometimes acted out, sometimes directed inwardly. Warning: In a few situations it can be deadly either way.

What we see in Paul’s life, from the late adolescence of Saul to the maturity of an imprisoned saintly man, is process. That is its message, that is its celebration. The Good News of the Gospel is that none of us has to be stuck. The eternally creative Word both dwells among us and still its glory shines.

Do you know someone who has experience violence? perhaps they would like to read these blogs.

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