The sacramental imagination, which affirms the goodness of creation, animates an iconic imagination that affirms the presence of the invisible in the visible—that ‘lifts up’ the messiness of bodies to be more than biological machines.

James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (via cwmyers)

I think this way of seeing the world – creation as sacrament – has value for the individual, but also for a culture. Consider the sacrament of confession, wherein the confessor considers the common things of breath and words to be sacred acts that declare the need for a just and merciful judge. The breath and words are a confession of guilt; a visible recognition of invisible complicity.

According to Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker in “14-18: Understanding the Great War”, in the near century since WWI, France has seen a cycle of infinite mourning; “the weight of the dead on the living”. The commemorations the nation of France [and other nations] have made for the war, have “partially repressed one of combat’s main consequences – the pain of bereavement.” Further, “specialists detect traces of ‘survivor’s syndrome’ among grandchildren of Holocaust victims. Perhaps [then] it is in the third generation that we should look for the existing scars of the great massacre of 1914-1918.”

I take these statements as a suggestion that where France [and all participants] needed to confess culturally its part in the atrocities of the War, it found instead marble monuments of heroism. Confession is not to take lightly the soldiers’ sacrifices – perhaps we should commemorate those – but it is robbing individuals and a people of that confession of guilt which eases a bereavement whose echoes are found in grandchildren who never saw the violence committed by their grandparents. This could have deep implications for America now at the tail end of two decade long wars. 

Veteran suicides average one every eighty minutes, an unprecedented eighteen a day or six thousand a year. They are 20 percent of all U.S. suicides, though veterans of all wars are only about 7 percent of the U.S. population. Between 2005 and 2007, the national suicide rate among veterans under age thirty rose 26 percent. In Texas, – home of the largest military base in the world and the third-highest veteran population – rates rose 40 percent between 2006 and 2009…Veterans are disproportionately homeless, unemployed, poor, divorced, and imprisoned… (Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War, xii). 

What must be the implications – familial, educational, economic, psychological – of that rate over the next three generations? 

“We organize emotionally intense memories into a story in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, where self-control, planning, reasoning, and decision making occur. The mind creates a pattern from memory fragments stored in various places. Emotions are essential to moral conscience, but until people can construct enough of a coherent narrative to grasp what they did, they cannot evaluate it” (Soul Repair). Confession as a habit seems to be the first stage in building a coherent narrative.

If the American church has any foresight at all, then the sacrament of confession needs to be emphasized. And if the American culture at large is to execute the campaign promises of both presidential candidates to help veterans returning from war, then it needs to begin in the sacrament of confession so veterans and our communities can imagine the rhythms of life in peacetime. Then we can deal with the monument making.

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