We Don’t Do That Anymore

Lent, writes, the author, takes us to a place where “we don’t allow fear, scarcity, anger and the bullying powers of this world to rule us. We aren’t overcome by death.” Photo: Great Pics Worldwide
Published March 31, 2023

On Ash Wednesday afternoon, I made my way through the snow to a last-minute appointment with a therapist. It’s been a difficult couple of years for most of us. Across the shared horizon of how COVID-19 has challenged us are the particular difficulties that we have each faced in navigating the isolation and hyper-vigilance of the pandemic. I described to my therapist all of the ways in which things have improved; life is calmer and better. “But I don’t feel better,” I admitted. It’s when I lie down to go to sleep that the feelings surface. Memories from the last few years come flooding into my mind. A weight squeezes my chest. It is difficult to keep my breathing even. I am upset, worried, anxious, and it’s hard to identify why.

She noted that the human body seeks homeostasis, or equilibrium.  But when danger or chaos becomes what’s normal, then homeostasis can be re-set toward the assumption of constant threat. “Your body is scanning the horizon for danger,” she noted. Although the circumstances which led to so much worry and anxiety for so long have significantly diminished, that habit of vigilance has left its mark on me.

As we were talking through strategies for teaching my body that it is okay to abandon the watch tower and go to sleep, I thought of the Taylor Swift documentary, Miss Americana, that I had recently watched with my daughter. In it, Swift opens up about the disordered body image and eating patterns that she had struggled with as a woman in the spotlight. She had learned at an early age that smaller was better and starved herself accordingly. “I thought this was just how it was supposed to be,” she notes, “that I would feel like passing out through my concerts.” She has had to re-teach her brain that it’s okay to eat, that it’s good and valid to have energy for her concerts and her work, that she deserves to be healthy and that beauty can exist at a weight that is natural for her body rather than at the starvation mode she was previously in. But in order to do this, in order to be healthy and well, she needs to speak back to the voices that would tell her otherwise, including her own. She often sees pictures of herself splashed across celebrity news. With these pictures come the toxic commentary of critics noticing every bump and wobble her body might produce, speculating on whether a curved stomach means she is pregnant, gleefully pointing out each fluctuation in her weight.

In response to all these voices, she lays claim to this mantra: “We don’t do that anymore.” It’s the verbalization of an intentional turning: this is where we used to go; we’re not going there any longer. “We’re changing the channel in our brain,” she reminds herself. “That didn’t end us up in a good place.”

It felt fortuitous to get that last-minute therapy appointment, but maybe luck wasn’t the only thing at play. Ash Wednesday marks the season of Lent, of repentance. “We don’t do that anymore” could be a Swiftian verbalization of the word “repent.” It’s a deliberate turning, a re-set, the option for change. I was grateful to start off my season of Lent with a mantra, a countering response to my own racing, anxious mind.

Repentance, though, isn’t the whole story. Lent isn’t self-contained. It takes us somewhere. It doesn’t make any sense to turn or re-set or change unless we know where that turn, that setting, that transformation is going to. Jesus tells us that the Good News is loaded into our repentance, that if we turn around and turn our lives around, we’ll see something else. We’ll see the Kingdom of God. We’ll see that it’s right there. It’s drawing near. It’s at hand. There is content to Jesus’ choice to speak back to the voices that fill our human lives with toxicity, despair, and a crippling creeping sense of danger.

Jesus sometimes speaks back with words, but primarily he speaks back with action. His healing miracles reveal God’s capacity and desire to bind up and reclaim our lives. His teaching reveals God’s beauty, light and love shining through in places and people where we have forgotten to look. His feeding reveals a world where there is enough food and love to go around. His words of forgiveness and acts of welcome reveal the fundamental worthiness of each of our lives. The meal that he shares with his friends on the night of his arrest, and the meals that he shares in the Resurrection, reveal the New Creation.

This is what we don’t do anymore: we don’t allow fear, scarcity, anger and the bullying powers of this world to rule us. We aren’t overcome by death.

This is what we do instead: We’re sharing this meal, and this meal is a share in the very life of God, in the banquet God has already spread out for us. We’re listening for our name, we’re taking our seat, and we’re participating in this ultimate sign that death, hate and fear have all been answered by the life, love and unstoppable arc of God’s justice.

In his seminal book on trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), The Body Keeps the Score, psychiatrist Bessel Van der Kolk details how traumatic events—either one-off or sustained patterns of abuse and neglect—leave their mark on the body. The brain is literally rewired. Memories of trauma are stored differently than those of love and joy. Survivors of abuse are much more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases, obesity, diabetes and heart trouble. When the body learns that it is not safe, that a hyper state of vigilance is required at all times, that shows up not only on brain scans but in the configuration of our organs, in the protective layers we build around ourselves not only mentally but physically. He argues that you can’t “treat” trauma. It has happened, it can’t be undone. What he describes instead is also a turning. The body, mind and spirit need to learn how to integrate past events into a present where the narratives of violation and worthlessness are challenged by new knowledge: of being safe, of being empowered, of being absolved, of being worthy. “We don’t do that anymore” is a story that needs to be intentionally written onto the very cells of the human body.

My Lenten-Swiftian mantra has been a helpful response to the voices of fear and anxiety to which I have become all too accustomed to listening these past few years. My own habits of vigilance have left their mark on my anxious mind and the disquiet of my body.

Sweeping, universal conclusions have been drawn about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what it means for all of us. And also, the power of Jesus’ offering is ultimately located in one specific physical body—one that endured great trauma, lost everything and had the wounds to show for it. My body might be marked, but so is Jesus’.  And his body, and mine, are also marked by a new story, one that promises we won’t walk alone and from death God is turning us to life: “We don’t do that anymore.”


  • Martha Tatarnic

    Canon Martha Tatarnic serves as the rector of St. George's Anglican Church in St. Catharines, Ont. She is the author of The Living Diet: A Christian Journey to Joyful Eating and Why Gather? The Hope and Promise of the Church.

Related Posts

Skip to content