I discovered this week that writing about the American/Vietnam War stirred up a torrent of scary emotions. I often “think” in feelings, not words or even images, but currents of emotional energy. After I wrote certain phrases, they tossed around in my head like a bare branch in the wind. Then, as I reflected further, brilliant colored-leaves, representing feelings for which there are no words, swirled and attached to the naked tree skeleton.
One evening on a crisp winter walk, my husband and I reminisced about Vietnam, a beautiful country we have both been fortunate to visit. I fell silent, and he asked what I was thinking. All I could manage was an embarrassed, “I don’t know.” My thoughts turned to images described by people I love of what they experienced in the war; I thought of a book called “War Cradle” that describes the impact of the conflict on children; through my head flashed the face of my friend’s husband who struggles with PTSD after serving in Iraq; I remembered people in Syria, enduring this very moment the atrocity of war. And I felt for all of them. I felt the powerlessness of what I cannot change or even understand. There were no words to verbalize all these leaves sprouting wildly, out of control.
The next day I turned to painting to scramble to a pinnacle of safety, above the swarm of brittle foliage rattling in malevolent gusts. The motif of a bird flying above and beyond called to me to soar as well. The safest place I know, high above the chaos, is described in these ancient words of Psalm 63:7-8, “…for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”
There is so much wrong in the world that I am powerless to change. But I am confident of the place beyond it all, the shelter found in the wings of the One who promises to be near the crushed and broken-hearted. The One who says, yes, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)