When bad things happen to us we sometimes wonder, “Am I good anymore?” or “Why did this happen to me?” These are profoundly spiritual questions. We understand spirituality to be a region of the human experience, even “a connection to that which transcends the self.” This connection might be to God, a higher power, a universal energy, the sacred, or to nature. Spirituality also refers to the search for meaning in our lives.
Spiritual questions are most likely to arise during times of trauma and anguish, what many call a “dark night of the soul.” During these painful times, we feel lost, alone, and afraid. Psychotherapy tries to help us find our way out of the dark night, generally as quickly as possible. In contrast, a spiritual perspective invites us to explore the dark, where we can develop new sensibilities and insights. Rabbi Steve Leder wrote, “Pain is an invitation to fix what is broken in us and in the world.”
When people experience the trauma of unintentional killing, some return to their spiritual or religious roots. Some flee from them. But nearly all of us find sources outside of ourselves to give us the strength, guidance, and encouragement we need to keep going. Many of us, sooner or later, find that we cannot deal with the pain of our suffering by ourselves. We need help. And that help begins by calling on our higher power.
Some people use the name God but your higher power can be a group of fellow unintentional killers, like those in The Hyacinth Fellowship. You might feel in touch with your higher power walking alongside a clear mountain stream, meditating, or listening to a beautiful song. When we name our higher power we admit that we cannot transform alone. We need assistance.
Calling upon a higher power requires humility. We must be humble enough to admit our mistakes, to ask for help, and to share our experience and needs. We must be humble enough to be a light and hope to others in need. And we must be humble enough to seek forgiveness, from other people, from our God, and from ourselves.
Many of us find that self-forgiveness is the biggest hurdle. We have committed the most sacred of all sins, taking a human life, and coping with this is no easy task. Our transgressions become the backbone of sticky thoughts and haunting memories. In coping with these core feelings and beliefs, our unintentional harm brings us seeds for transformation.
While spirituality is about our individual meaning-making, religion is meaning-making together with other people. Religions seek to answer profound questions about life’s meaning and often have deeply embedded rituals, practices, and beliefs on what to do after causing harm to another person.
All religions have cleansing rituals to wash away sin, or to atone for the things we have done to hurt others. It is in these places that religion can help us heal. For some Christians it is the confessional booth or the altar call that brings them back into peace with God and the church. For some religions there are ritual baths, incense, or retreats and pilgrimages where people wash away and leave behind the old self that doesn’t feel good anymore.
Most religions have given serious thought to the question of “Where was God on my awful day?” In Christian theology this is called Theodicy. Ask your religious leaders these questions and keep searching until you find an answer that resonates with your experience. It is in this search for answers that we find our answer.
If you believe in God, do you perceive Him or Her as a stern and punishing power, who metes out justice to those who break the laws? The Hyacinth Fellowship is non-denominational, but we gently encourage you to consider the idea of a loving and benevolent God, one who is with us in our suffering. The concept of Grace in Christianity, for example, means that God’s love for us does not have to be earned. It is unconditional. The Jewish Torah teaches that mercy is integral to God’s nature. And the holy book of Islam, the Quran, also has numerous references to a merciful God, such as, “Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Sura 39 (Az-Zumar), ayah 53). We hope your beliefs will give you comfort and hope.
Keep in mind that religious communities, or, at least, the people in religious communities can often say clichés that hinder healing by increasing our guilt and alienation. Your community should be a source of solace, not shame. Tell your religious or spiritual community what you need from them—a listening ear, treat me like I’m normal, only bring it up if I bring it up. Most people don’t know what to say, and it is ok to tell them they don’t have to.
Co-authored by D. Peters, C. Yaw, and M. Gray