The Wounded Body of Christ: Social Trauma in Pastoral Care

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The Wounded Body of Christ: Social Trauma in Pastoral Care (Image Western Australia by Pinterest)
The Wounded Body of Christ: Social Trauma in Pastoral Care (Image Western Australia by Pinterest)

It was a frigid evening as I stepped off the inter-campus bus and onto the familiar brick pavement of our campus, shivering as I went. On days like this when it was so cold it almost hurt, I would not refuse help to speed up the walk across campus. Soon, I was approached by a gentleman who kindly offered me assistance, which I gratefully accepted. I felt an instant connection with this gentleman that could not be immediately explained. As we talked, I could sense that he had a kind heart but was struggling, feeling alone. At one point, I asked him what he thought were the best and worst parts of the campus experience. He shared that it was lonely being a student of color on campus. Extending my hand, I said, “I hear you. I can understand, to some extent, how you feel.” And I did, because being without sight has opened my eyes to see struggles that others cannot see, to feel connections with others who feel the same. Though this gentleman did not express it, he and I both knew what it was like to walk into the room and be “the only one,” to be treated differently, to be “colored” first or “disabled” first. We were two strangers, yet we sensed each other’s struggles in a way that could not be understood by others around us. Giving his hand a gentle squeeze, I said: “Hang in there.” I offered some encouraging words before we departed, still strangers but kindred spirits, having helped one another in a special way.

I believe the connection that I felt with this gentleman walking across campus was actually not so strange. There was something we were both feeling, a deep struggle that is challenging but makes us stronger, that we did not express in words. My body and spirit felt it. Although I cannot say what he felt in his spirit, it seemed we connected from the moment we encountered each other that evening. I call this solidarity. Perhaps you have experienced similar feeling before, that kindred connection with someone when you know you have a similar experience of navigating this complex world. Perhaps you have heard it from people who are challenged by life in a world where they are treated differently. Increasingly, I have felt myself drawn to make these connections of solidarity, to listen to the stories of the people whom we call “other” – because I, too, am called other. Yet, to achieve true solidarity, there is so much I have to learn. There is so much I have to explore beyond my own story.

My story was part of the inspiration to examine the threads of this roughly woven quilt, but it is only one square among the patchwork of other testimonies. These stories led me to ask some fundamental questions. How is navigating a world in which our differences are brought to the forefront every day of our lives, as experienced by the gentleman I met walking across campus, a form of social oppression? What is social oppression, and at what point does it become social trauma? Why is it necessary to engage such a painful topic? I cannot promise to answer these questions, though I will address them. Perhaps all who read this will end up with more questions than answers. Perhaps the readers will experience pain, anger, a deep sense of solidarity, an examination of conscience, or something else entirely.

Nevertheless, I invite my readers to embark with me on the journey of examining social trauma in our world today – a journey that is not individual, but communal; a journey that requires us working together as fellow human beings, to turn from disharmony to unity, from uncontained brokenness to redemptive healing. Healing is possible, but it begins with you and me, here and now, in our consciousness, our bodies, and our spirits.

Recently, I had an awakening in which my eyes were opened to the sociocultural implications of our world today, specifically a greater awareness of oppression. Part of this awakening was recognizing my simultaneous experience of privilege and oppression, and the oppression of others. It also brought about a painful, reflective, and revelatory growth in that I began to recognize my own complicity in social structures of sin. I had to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth of my white privilege, but also my own marginalization as a person without sight. Since this awakening occurred, I feel deep empathy and solidarity for others who are marginalized, and have had several reciprocal healing encounters that could not have occurred without this awareness of social oppression.

Description of the Pastoral Response

Social trauma is a form of oppressive suffering that is damaging on many levels. Building from a theological framework of solidarity, the pastoral response is rooted in practices of solidarity. Pastoral care providers should be equipped to minister to people with social trauma because it contradicts Christian solidarity by wounding and dividing the Body of Christ. I propose a plan that not only educates pastoral ministers about social trauma, but also equips them with tools of solidarity to respond.

As a pastoral response, I developed a five-session workshop that will take place over at least three to four days. Ideally after the coronavirus is behind us, the workshop would occur in a large space that would accommodate a great deal of movement, sacred spaces for prayer, and outside areas such as water or walking paths. Ideally, the workshop would occur over 3-4 days in a retreat environment, though the format can be flexible. The workshop would encourage growth and being challenged, debriefing, self-care, openness, and empowerment of oneself and others. The workshop will include large and small group activities, as well as regular debriefing sessions. Two teams are required for the success of this workshop. The ministry team will be responsible for coordinating and facilitating activities and attending to practical details. The spirituality team will be responsible for conducting prayer services, praying for intentions throughout the retreat, and meeting with individuals to offer support through listening or prayer as needed.

This workshop will be a combination of contemplative reflection/prayer, education, and interactive sessions. It consists of five sessions, each with five activities. The first session addresses social trauma using academic research and examples of social trauma gathered from qualitative interviews. In this session, participants will consider where and how they have encountered social trauma. The second session examines social trauma using Resmaa Menakem’s psychological theory of trauma as a bodily response, before moving to interactive activities. The third looks at social trauma from a theological perspective and considers solidarity as a theological response. Participants will reflect theologically on social trauma using Scripture and personal experience. The fourth session consists of interactive activities intended to teach tools of solidarity. The final session includes an assessment of ministers’ gifts as well as the evaluation.
The goal of this workshop is that ministers will be able to implement practices of solidarity as a pastoral response to the problem of social trauma.

The outcomes are as follows:

  1. Pastoral ministers will be able to name a time they have encountered social trauma either personally or in their ministry and identify three harmful effects of that trauma.
  2. Pastoral ministers will be able to share two theological insights they gained from this workshop and describe how these insights contribute to their framework for a pastoral response to social trauma.
  3. Pastoral ministers will be able to name three tools of solidarity that will be helpful in their ministry for responding to people with social trauma.
    The qualitative evaluation for this workshop consists of written and oral components that align with the goals and outcomes. After a month, there will be a meeting with those who attended the workshop to discuss how what they learned has impacted their ministry.

The Pastoral Response: A Workshop on Social Trauma

Session 1: Introducing Social Trauma

ACTIVITY 1: WHAT IS SOCIAL TRAUMA?

    • Introduce the goals and outcomes
    • You will form small groups that come together several times during the

Large Group Questions:

1.) What compelled you to come to this workshop? What do you hope to take away?

2.) Have you ever encountered the terms social oppression and social trauma? What do you think of when you hear those terms?

    • Define social trauma and related terms
    • Explain oppressive vs. redemptive suffering

ACTIVITY 2: SCENARIOS

    • In your small groups, consider these scenarios from qualitative interviews. Why might these be examples of social trauma? What thoughts or feelings came up for you as you read these scenarios?
    • Share with the larger group one scenario or one aspect of your group’s conversation that stood out to

ACTIVITY 3: ENTERING INTO THE JOURNEY

    • Think about some times you may have encountered social trauma, either personally or in your ministry. What happened in this situation? Did it involve yourself or anyone close to you? How did you respond? What feelings, emotions, thoughts, prayers, or sensations arise for you? What do you need in this moment?

Small Group Questions:

How has this encounter with social trauma impacted your life and ministry? Why do you think it is important for ministers to identify where they have encountered trauma?

ACTIVITY 4: WHERE DO I STAND?: PRIVILEDGE AND COMPLICITY

    • Describe privilege and oppression

A privilege walk will determine where each person stands on the continuity from privilege to oppression. The facilitator will be inclusive and include types of oppression that go beyond race, gender/sex, and class.

Large Group Questions:

Where do you stand? How do you feel about where you stand?

    • Complicity: Those ministering to people with social trauma must demonstrate radical openness to our own complicity in structures of social oppression, which involves honest self-examination. It can be very uncomfortable and painful, but freeing once we see the bricks we have been living behind, illuminating to have our eyes opened to the light of awareness.
    • As a large group, we will create a list of structures of oppressive suffering in our society today.

Small Group Questions:

What is your own complicity? How do you feel after realizing this? What do you want to do about it?

Break: Meal, Rest, and Networking

Self-Care Exercise: Contemplative Walk

This quiet, reflective walk is a chance to rejuvenate due to the heavy nature of the topic of social trauma. You may either pair up with someone or walk on your own. Process, reflect, unwind.

ACTIVITY 5: DEBRIEFING

    • Take some time to process and reflect on the day with your small groups. The spirituality team is available to listen or pray with you as needed. Please feel free to reach out for any additional support you may

Session 2: Social Trauma: A Theoretical Examination

ACTIVITY 1: PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORY: TRAUMA AS A BODILY RESPONSE

    • Soul nerve, lizard brain, and settled bodies

ACTIVITY 2: INTERACTIVE UNDERSTANDING: THE SOUL NERVE AND LIZARD BRAIN

    • Do an exercise pertaining to the soul
    • Do an exercise pertaining to the lizard

You are walking down the sidewalk on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Someone says hello to you, but you cannot recall their name. Which part of the brain would you be using? Thinking brain or lizard brain?

You are walking down the street on a dark, foggy night. The street lamps are dim, so all you can see are shadows. Suddenly, you notice someone approaching you very quickly. Without warning, your heart begins to race, your breath quickens, your body tenses, and you lift your heavy bag for protection. Then you realize it is just your neighbor going for a run, and just as quickly, your body relaxes. Which part of the brain was initially activated – your thinking brain or lizard brain?

ACTIVITY 3: INTERACTIVE UNDERSTANDING: SETTLING THE BODY

    • Guide the group in one of Menakem’s meditations/activities to settle the

Harmonize Bodies:

Take a moment to look at the people next to you. What do you observe (silently)? In this activity, one person will start to hum, then is joined by another person. Keep going around the circle until everyone has joined the humming. Hum together for a few moments. Then simply sit in silence and breathe together. Now, take a moment again to look at the people next to you. What do you feel in your body now compared to when the humming first began? What do you observe about the people next to you compared to before the humming exercise began? What was the experience like of humming together? Breathing together?

ACTIVITY 4: CLEAN VS. DIRTY PAIN

    • Explain clean pain vs. dirty pain
    • In your small groups, share one example of clean pain and one example of dirty pain you have encountered. How does dirty pain worsen social trauma? How might learning to work through clean pain impact the way we deal with social trauma today, both as individuals and in our culture? What are some ways to move from dirty pain to clean pain?

ACTIVITY 5: THE GOD WHO SUFFERS WITH US

    • This activity will happen in a prayer setting. You are invited to reflect on what you are experiencing right now. If it helps to write it out or hold a peace object such as a rock or a cross, you may do so. There will be a hand-washing station where you may have your hands blessed in holy water. There will be stations around the room to pray privately with a minister. After a while, the whole group will gather in a circle. In the center of the circle will be a table with a lighted candle and a prayer vessel. You may speak your intentions aloud, hold them in the silence of your hearts, or write them in the prayer vessel.

Prayer: God, help us work through our pain. Please rid us of any dirty pain, and help us to move through clean pain so that we may unite our suffering with the suffering of Jesus Christ, the God who suffers with us.

Closing Prayer: We are all wounded healers. We know we are hurting, and we know the Body of Christ is hurting. God, may you help to heal and restore us. Be with us through our pain, that we may be able to accompany others in their suffering. May we respond always in the spirit of your compassionate, merciful love. May we be open to your healing presence. May we receive any healing graces offered to us at this time.

Self-Care Exercise: Rest and Heal

A much-needed time to rest and recharge. This is your self-care time. Take a walk, read, pray, journal, do artwork, do something sensory such as playing with clay or sand, talk or pray with somebody, or anything else that you consider healthy personal self-care..

Break: Share a meal and connect with others

ACTIVITY 6: DEBRIEFING

Session 3: Social Trauma: Problem and Response

ACTIVITY 1: SOCIAL TRAUMA: A THEOLOGICAL AND PASTORAL PROBLEM

Large Group Question:

What do you think Christian teaching would say about social trauma?

    • Data will be presented from qualitative interviews regarding the theological implications of social

Large Group Question:

Do you think ministers should be aware of and equipped to minister to people who experience social trauma? Why or why not?

    • Data will be presented from qualitative interviews regarding the pastoral harms of not being equipped to minister to people with social

ACTIVITY 2: SOLIDARITY: A THEOLOGICAL RESPONSE

    • Solidarity and the Body of Christ
    • Practical solidarity
    • Love and justice

ACTIVITY 3: SOLIDARITY AND THE BODY OF CHRIST (1 COR. 12:12-26)

    • Read the Scripture passage as a large

Small Group Questions:

What does this passage tell us about the treatment of people who are marginalized?

    • Preferential option for the poor

Large Group Questions:

Reflecting on this passage, who is marginalized in your community? How could you practice the preferential option for the poor toward those who are marginalized in your community?

ACTIVITY 4: RADICAL SOLIDARITY IN THE MAGNIFICAT

    • Read the Magnificat as a large group. Reflect on this Scripture

Small Group Questions:

How does the Magnificat pertain to social trauma? What examples of marginalization do you see in the Magnificat that could be socially traumatic? How does Mary model solidarity in the Magnificat?

    • Mary’s “yes” to God was not due to submissiveness; rather, it represented a “yes” to the divine promises of liberation, and a “no” to all the conditions of oppressed people. Mary’s Magnificat demonstrates something more than empathy; it demonstrates a willingness to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, by one who herself was
    • What are some conditions of oppression God is calling you to speak out against or respond to? How is God calling you to model solidarity in your ministry?

Large Group Questions:

Reflect on one take-away from the Magnificat, and respond in the following sentence: “If I do this … then…”.

ACTIVITY 5: PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

What does solidarity mean to you?

Think of a time you have experienced solidarity. How did you feel in your body and in your spirit?

Think of a time you offered solidarity to another person. What feelings, emotions, bodily sensations, or thoughts arise for you as you recall this situation?

Session 4: Solidarity: A Pastoral Response

ACTIVITY 1: OPPRESSION SENSITIVE PASTORAL CARE

    • Roadblocks: power imbalances, patterns of disconnection

Large Group Questions:

Can you think of other roadblocks?

    • “People of faith today are called to respond to a world that is groaning under the weight of injustice and broken relationships. Our differences and our interdependence are intended to be a source of strength and a gift from God. The reign of God … will be built on the transformation of hearts – new life, not just reordered life.” – (Kujawa-Holbrook and Montagno)
    • Indicators of oppression sensitive pastoral care

Large Group Questions:

Which of these resonate with you? Are there any indicators you would add?

ACTIVITY 2: SPIRITUAL SOLIDARITY: THE IMAGE OF GOD AND THE MARGINALIZED JESUS

    • All people are made in God’s image and likeness. Each of us has an image of God that speaks to us. A ministry of solidarity involves having an open heart and mind to whatever image of God speaks to the people you minister to, and to the experiences that led them to embrace that image. An individual’s image of God often deeply influences their spirituality; thus, the minister’s willingness to explore that image with them, and the effort to better understand their spiritual journey, is a type of spiritual
    • What image of God speaks to you? What is it about this image that resonates with you? What experiences led you to embrace this image?

Large Group Activity:

Take some time to depict your own image of God. You may draw, use clay, write, or whatever you choose. Then, walk around the room and share your image of God with five other people. Ask one another the questions above.

Next, some representations of the marginalized Jesus will be displayed. Take several moments in reflective silence to walk around and explore these images.

Small Group Questions:

Have you encountered a representation of the marginalized Jesus prior to this activity? What comes to your mind when you imagine the marginalized Jesus?

Large Group Questions:

What did you learn from this experience? How do you think the marginalized Jesus would be helpful in ministry to people with social trauma?

    • Liberation theology emphasizes Jesus’ solidarity with oppressed people; namely, Jesus Himself was marginalized. Jesus endured social oppression, perhaps even social trauma; therefore, he identifies strongly with others who have had these experiences. The Gospels demonstrate how the ministry of Jesus was influenced by his own experiences of oppression. Indeed, Jesus is the incarnation of divine compassion for those who are exploited and

ACTIVITY 2: A THEOLOGY OF ACCOMPANIMENT: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE PASCHAL MYSTERY

    • Accompaniment means being deeply present to someone and walking with them on their journey through darkness and light, joy and suffering. One way to describe accompaniment is through a theology of the Paschal Mystery. This theology is adapted from M. Shawn Copeland’s approach to the death and Resurrection in her theology of Eucharistic solidarity. Ideas from Copeland’s theology were used to develop a pastoral approach to accompaniment. The three stages of this framework are intended as a guide for Christian ministers for how to accompany a person who is experiencing social trauma. Adaptations would be necessary for an interfaith

Stage 1: DEATH

Accompany the person through suffering. Listen, not just to the words the person is saying, but the meaning behind those words, to the story they are trying to tell. This stage involves dying to ourselves by admitting our complicity in suffering, surrendering ourselves and the other person to God. Dying to yourself does not mean compromising yourself or aspects of your identity, but rather allowing God to work through you to minister to the other person.

Stage 2: RESURRECTION

Talk about the person’s strengths and resources. Reflect on the promises of the hope of the resurrection, that Jesus will liberate the oppressed.

Stage 3: ASCENSION

Ask the person about their support system and their needs. This prepares the person to go forth, not as if they can be completely healed from the ministerial encounter, but that they may continue the journey feeling strengthened, feeling that they can move forward. If appropriate, you may share a prayer, Scripture, or an image of God. The minister’s “ascension” is thinking about how you will advocate for justice in light of this encounter. The mystery in accompaniment is the wonder of how God will continue to work in both you and the person you ministered to after that encounter.

This activity will be a metaphorical representation of the accompaniment journey. From one end of the room to the other there will be aspects of the Paschal Mystery praxis of accompaniment. Each small group will walk the metaphorical journey using a scenario. The group will start at one end of the room, and respond to the scenario at each of the three stages. Once your group has gone through each stage, you may move on to the next, until you have reached the other end of the room.

ACTIVITY 3: NEEDS MAP

  • It is important that we are attuned to the needs of ourselves, our communities, our loved ones, and the people to whom we minister. This does not mean we can meet all these needs, but that an awareness of these needs will lead to a better understanding of how people navigate the
  • Each small group will be given a large sheet of construction paper on which to create a map of

 

    • What would you include on a map of needs for a holistic and meaningful life, for yourself and the people you minister to?
    • Share your needs map with the large

Large Group Questions:

Are there any needs other groups mentioned that you would include on your map of needs? What needs should be included for people experiencing social trauma or social oppression? Were these needs included on your map or others’ needs maps?

    • A community of encounter is made up of people with whom you feel a sense of solidarity or a deep connection. A community of encounter does not necessarily include the people you encounter every day; in fact, some could be people with whom you had brief encounters. The key to a community of encounter is not the length of a relationship or physical proximity, but a sense of
    • Do you feel you have a community of encounter? Where would a community of encounter fit on the needs map? How could a community of encounter be helpful to someone with social trauma?

ACTIVITY 4: REPLENISHMENT

    • Part A: You will each be given a bag of puzzle pieces with the names of certain self-care needs (for example, encouragement, hope, prayer, exercise, support, community, etc.) Walk around the circle of the room. Along the way, you will be stopped by facilitators acting as people to minister to, who tell you about a trouble they are experiencing. You will invite them to pick one or more needs out of the bag. You are allowed to go back to the station at any time, but you must make it all the way around the room in seven minutes. Anyone who runs out of puzzle pieces is disqualified. At the end, examine what you have left in the bag for yourself.
    • Part B: Everybody will receive a bag of five needs. You may ask for what you are missing, but must also give back something in return. For example: “I’m running on empty. I need encouragement. Do you have encouragement? Now, what do you need?”
    • The lesson from part A is self-care: we all need to replenish ourselves in order to minister effectively to others. Part B was a lesson in solidarity: we all need each other, and each of us has something to give to the

Break: Meal and Rest

ACTIVITY 5: THE STRENGTH WITHIN

    • Reflect back on the Magnificat. Part of this story’s beauty is recognizing Mary’s inner strength – the strength that gave her the courage to say yes to the divine call and resist forces of oppression, the endurance to withstand the persecution she suffered, and the hope to go forth singing God’s praises joyfully. As ministers, you must recognize your own inner strength, and help those to whom you minister to recognize their inner strength. God was in solidarity with Mary because he knew her inner strengths. In ministry, empowering or helping others to recognize their inner strengths is a practice of
    • Take about ten minutes to reflect and journal. What are your inner strengths? How did you come to recognize these? How did it feel to be made aware of your inner strengths?

Large Group Questions:

Are there times you have helped others recognize their inner strengths? How could it be helpful for someone experiencing social trauma to recognize or have their inner strengths called out?

ACTIVITY 6: DEBRIEFING

Session 5: What Will You Take Away?

ACTIVITY 1: EMPOWERMENT: THE GIFTS WE SHARE

    • Group members will share with one another what gifts and strengths you bring to the table. Each person will have a sheet of paper with your name on it. Each of your group members will write on the paper what they see as your gifts. You will then do the same for each of your group members. Then each person will reflect with you about what they wrote. Be honest, but also use integrity. Be open-minded and compassionate. It is okay to be vulnerable.

ACTIVITY 2: WRITTEN EVALUATION

1.) Can you name a time you encountered social trauma either personally or in your ministry?

2.) Do you feel better able to understand and recognize social trauma as a result of this workshop?

3.) Can you name three practices of solidarity you will apply to your own ministry? If so, what are they?

4.) Name three strengths that will be useful in your ministry to people with social trauma. Develop a brief (2 paragraphs, or bullet points) synthesis of how you plan to implement the tools or practices you learned on this workshop in your ministry to people with social trauma.

ACTIVITY 3: ORAL EVALUATION

    • Share with your small groups your ministerial

Small Group Questions

What did you learn from one another? How did you practice solidarity with one another?

Large Group Questions:

What are some things you learned about social trauma and solidarity that you will be able to implement in your ministry? What are some positive aspects and some critiques of the workshop? What is one suggestion for improvement?

Closing Meal

ACTIVITY 4: CLOSING PRAYER – HEALING OUR HEARTS AND BODIES

Opening Song: Let Justice Roll Like A River

Reading

Following this will be some ecumenical prayers for solidarity. Next, a basket of bread will be passed around the circle to represent community in solidarity, breaking bread together. A ball of yarn will be passed around the circle and you are invited to say your prayer intentions aloud.

When the yarn web is complete, it will symbolize the interconnectedness as a community. A short period of silence will occur while holding the yarn web. The silence will end with saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison, followed by a closing prayer. Then, slowly, each person will release the yarn web. The service will end with a closing song and a sign of peace.

Resources

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