By John M. Schluep
Recently I sat with four other veterans in what I have come to name the Prayer & Sweat Lodge. I have been practicing this meditative purification ceremony for more years than I can remember. I believed that the Sweat Lodge or Healing Lodge was an exclusively Native American Indian ceremony but recently discovered that other cultures have used similarly if not identical ceremonial practices. Intentional meditation involving a specific purpose and some good discomfort has been used by others. My healer and spiritual guide Chris, reminds me, “You are not an Indian; you are creating a new way of a healing path.”
My mind traveled to this topic as I read in Bostonia Winter/Spring 2017 about Onaje Woodbine. The article tells his story of growing up in Boston and playing basketball on the blacktop courts of city neighborhoods. Neighborhoods marked with gang activity. The title of the article by Michael Goldberg, “Of Hoops and Healing” was reminiscent of the Sweat & Prayer Lodge of Warriors’ Journey Home. Onaje’s insight is the basketball court became the church for those neighborhood kids dealing with life’s toughest questions: What happens when you die? What do we owe to the dead if anything? Why is there evil? ( Onaje Woodbine’s book Black God’s of The Asphalt, Columbia University Press 2016).
In my opinion, The Church has failed to engage in any meaningful way, a dialogue with veterans returning from service to their country. There is little if any discussion of the Moral Injury or the loss of soul. It is no wonder that many give up on the institutional faith community that will not listen to their struggles, concerns, and questions.
Onaje states about the neighborhood kids growing up in the prison of poverty, “These young men are part of a larger group, which bears the burden of a traumatized existence.” I could state in a general way about many veterans returning home, “These young men and women are members of a larger group, which bears the burden of a traumatized past, a soul wound and at times the moral injury.” I have heard from combat veterans, “The war was easy; coming home is a real struggle.” It is in the ceremony of the Prayer & Sweat Lodge that stories are told, people are listened to, invisible wounds are exposed, cleansing takes place, healing happens. It is sitting in a community of common purpose and suffering, praying, listening to the voice of gentle stillness that wellness begins.