I’ve been a civilian all my life. But my father was a veteran of three wars, and I’ve watched as people just a few years older than me served and died in Viet Nam, and now those not too much younger than me are serving and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Whatever your political — or spiritual — persuasion might be, I hope you’ll agree with me that the physical, mental and emotional trauma suffered by those who serve in harm’s way is not only a significant social and psychological issue, but a crucial spiritual issue as well.
Now, a friend of mine named Andy Farris, who served in Viet Nam and whom I met through a writer’s retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, is working on creating a healing retreat specifically for veterans. He and I spoke yesterday about ways in which I could be involved in this kind of work.
I’m honored that Andy would even consider me for work this important. As he shared with me stories of his and other veterans’ journeys, including dealing with feelings of guilt over having survived, struggling to find faith that was damaged or lost in combat, and engaging in the long slow process of finding healing after trauma (whether physical or emotional/psychological), I came to realize just how vital it is for veterans to claim (or reclaim) a spiritual dimension to their lives and their healing process.
This isn’t just a Catholic issue or a Christian issue. But I do believe it is very much a contemplative issue. When I consider how much I have to struggle to embrace silence and serenity even in the midst of my rather pampered life, I am humbled when I think of the challenges a veteran must face as he (or she) strives to open their hearts to such an elusive inner peace. It seems to me that those of us who have made contemplation a priority in our lives ought to be available for veterans, who probably in many cases don’t have much in the way of deeply contemplative resources readily available to them.
If you have a moment, visit Andy Farris’ website, HealingVeterans.org. It’s a work in progress, but I think there’s already plenty of good stuff up there. Excerpts from the book Andy is writing can be found there, along with some ideas for Andy’s vision of veteran’s retreats.
I’d like to hear from anyone reading this blog who are themselves veterans, and/or who have loved ones who served, and perhaps died, in military combat. If anyone has any thoughts on contemplation as a healing tool for veterans who are in search of spiritual growth and inner peace, I’d love to see your comments. I’m particularly interested in hearing from veterans who meditate and contemplate or who have struggled to do so. I’ll pass on your ideas and thoughts and reflections to Andy, who is looking for input as he works on his veterans retreats (hopefully we’ll have one at the Monastery as early as 2011).