The Taste of New Wine
Recovering from Accidents
With Gratitude to Simon Lewis
Recovering is not returning to a pre-existing state. It is arriving at a new state in light of what
has happened. The arriving may can entail physical or psychological or spiritual transformation. Always it is healing and creative transformation. It is how God is present in the world.
Who is Simon Lewis?
"After a catastrophic car accident that left him in a coma, Simon Lewis found
ways to recover, physically and mentally, beyond all expectations. At the
INK Conference he tells how this remarkable story led him to concern over all threats to consciousness, and how to overcome them. Simon Lewis is the author of "Rise and Shine," a memoir about his remarkable recovery from a car accident and coma, and his new aproach to our own consciousness...."
Do you want to hear a longer talk by Simon Lewis, with and excellent question and answer afterwards? If so,you will enjoy podcast from the RSA, one of the most important think-tanks in the world today. It is in this podcast that he talks about faith. For more information on the RSA and all that it has to offer, click here.
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The Taste of New Wine
by Jay McDaniel
I know people who admire Simon Lewis and also envy him.
They, too, have suffered from catastrophic accidents, but unlike Simon they have never fully recovered. I think of a friend who watched his TED talk and then said: "I am glad Simon Lewis could rise and shine after his accident, but I feel like I have fallen and can never get up again.
I understand my friend's situation. There are accidents from which people never fully recover physically, psychologically, or spiritually. The very language of full recovery can add insult to injury, especially if recovery suggests returning to a preexisting state.
I know people who spend their lives wishing they could return to preexisting states. I think of a particular woman I know whose daughter was abducted at an early age, never to be seen again. I think of a man I know whose son was killed in a war.
Recovery is Arriving at a New State
In process theology recovery is never returning to a preexisting state. Recovery is always arriving at a new state of affairs in light of what has happened in the past. The process is called creative transformation. It is how God is present in the world.
This new state of affairs may be the best for the impasse at hand or it may be surprisingly delicious. It may be what one process theologian, Monica Coleman, calls making a way out of no way or it may be what another author, Keith Miller, calls the taste of new wine.
Even if the new state of affairs tastes like new wine, the bitterness of the grapes is never reversed or forgotten. There is no need to look back at catastrophes and say they were meant to happen. And certainly there is no reason to say that they were willed by God or that they were meant to me or that they are products of past karma. Bad things happen all the time and we rightly respond to them honestly, by wishing they had never occurred. Some tragedies are so horrible we will spend our whole lives wishing they had been otherwise. There is an honesty in this wishing that is true to life and true to God. In the house of lamentation there are many rooms, some of them divine. It's no accident that the Bible contains a book called Lamentations.
If there is consolation in light of tragedy, it may only lie in the possibility, meaningful to process theologians like me, there is a continuing journey after death in which the wholeness is realized by all. Death may not have the final word after all.
It is in this larger context that the story of Simon Lewis contains lessons for all of us. He helps us prepare for whatever kind of recovery are possible for us, by telling the story of his own.
1. Recovery is a continuing journey. Recovery is an ongoing process. The story of Simon's journey is not finished. It is a continuing journey that is finds its fulfillment in telling the story and in helping others. The very act of helping is part of the recovery.
2. It takes a village to recover. The act of recovering is a relational process involving family and friends, therapists and physicians. Yes, it takes a strong will to recover from injuries such as he suffered; and it takes the good will of others, too. Recovery is a co-creative process.
3. Helpers are recovering, too. Simon's family was recovering at the same time that he was recovering. They are recovering from the trauma of witnessing, and empathising with, his trauma.
4. Recovering occurs unconsciously as well as consciously. We know from neuroscience that much of our experience is unconscious, and this includes the experience of recovery. We can willingly and consciously cooperate with the process of recovery, but the process is more than our will and consciousness.
5. Recovering includes Faith in Creative Transformation. In his RSA interview, Simon is asked if faith played a role, and he says "Yes." His faith was -- and is -- akin to that of process theology. It is not that God can change everything miraculously. It is that, with God's help and with that of many other people. creative transformation is possible.
6. Recovering is a dialogue between brain and spirit. Throughout Simon Lewis' TEDtalk we sense a difference between spirit and brain. He speaks of "his" brain as if he and his brain are slightly different; and yet he recognizes that the brain is recovering, too. There is developmental activity, and thus some kind of agency, in both brain and spirit. for more on this see John B. Cobb, Jr.'s Whitehead and Mind-Brain Relations.
7. Recovering does not erase the trauma but it reframes it. The trauma that initiates recovery terribly painful and yet opens up new possibilities that would not be available otherwise. At least this is what Simon says in the RSA interview, speaking for himself. On the one hand he knows that his accident was a great loss, especially of his fiance and the possibility of their having a life together, and yet it opened up possibilities for self-understanding and service to others that would not have been possible earlier.
8. God did not cause the accident. This is especially important to process theologians. They - we -- believe that there are "accidents" which occur in life which are not caused by God and which cannot be prevented by God. For us God is all-loving but not all-powerful. See Rabbi Bradley Artson's God Almight? No Way!
9. God is in the process of recovering. This, too, is especially important to process theologians. We believe that the very activity of healing is one way that God is present in human and non-human life, consciously and unconsciously. In the language of Monica Coleman, God is that reality in life which helps us Make a Way of No Way.
10. Always there is hope. After a trauma there is always pain, and there is no pretending that it is easy to cope with. There are people who are so traumatized by certain events that, in this life, they never, ever get over it. It is an offense to them and to God to pretend that they "ought" to get over it. Recovering, if it occurs, must always occur on its own terms and in its own way, gently. So much of it is unconscious.
From a process perspective the act of recovering may also continue after death. The spirit who carries our brains -- namely we ourselves -- is on a journey, too, and it is possible, but not certain, that the journey continues after death until wholeness is realized. See the work of David Griffin as explained in Process Theology and Neural Plasticity.
Our task in this life, though, is not to dwell on such possibilities for too long. It is to do the good work of recovering and helping others, as best we can. Life may be a salvage operation, but the operation can be deeply and profoundly loving.