Healing the spiritual wounds of war

Psychotherapist calls on the church to minister to armed forces veterans.






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Publication: Canadian Mennonite
Author: Klassen, Mary E
Date published: April 2, 2012

Carolyn Holderread Heggen, a psycho-therapist who specializes in trauma healing, called on Mennonites to provide healing communities for the spiritual wounds of war. Specifically, she challenged listeners to bring healing to veterans and their families.

Precisely because Mennonites have traditionally been opposed to war, they have a credibility that helps veterans feel safe in dealing with their battle experiences, Heggen told her audiences at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary earlier this year as the school's "peace and justice guest." "If we do not think we have something to offer, then we need to rethink our whole concept of what God incarnate in our world means."

Heggen noted that currently there is greater recognition of the damage that war does to combatants. A variety of medical professions are now saying what Mennonites have known for a long time: "You can't kill another human being without damaging the person you ask to do that. Soldiers are also victims of our national addiction to war and to violence. We have not been honest about the price we ask of soldiers and everyone who loves them to fight our wars."

In one session, Heggen addressed the myths North America has about war and the truth behind those myths. She noted, for example, that three times as many veterans of the Vietnam War have taken their own lives than were killed in combat.

"We don't cross paths with many veterans," Heggen admitted about most Mennonites. "We need to figure out ways to get to know veterans. Then the first thing we have to do is to be more honest about our own brokenness. That transparency can help vets to feel this is a group on a journey."

In her concluding presentation, Heggen said, "I have this strong conviction-and it's a growing conviction-that we, as Mennonites, have something very, very significant to be saying about the spiritual wounds of war. I think God is wanting to do something exciting through us."

Heggen clarified that she wasn't talking about healing veterans so they can go back into combat. Instead, she urged the church to build "spaces of love, compassion and grace where we can listen to stories of vets, and weep with them and say, 'Yes, what you did was terrible. It was in profound and clear violation of God's intentions for humanity. And the rest of the story is that there is a way out, and we will commit ourselves to walk with you on that journey out.'"

Heggen warned, though, that Mennonites have to be honest and vigilant about the "spiritual battles we will be facing. My theology has never been so challenged as when I am listening to vets and their stories."

However, she is optimistic that Mennonites have the theology and history to address the needs of healing for veterans, needs that are growing beyond any seen previously. "I know it is possible to not back down one inch on our peace-and-justice and anti-war position as a church, and also to open our hearts to veterans and to their wounds."

Heggen is author of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches (Herald Press, 1993); she holds a Ph.D. in counselling psychology from the University of New Mexico.

Author affiliation:

Story and Photo by Mary E. Klassen

Associated Mennonice Biblical Seminary

ELKHART, IND.

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