Wounded veterans undertake rituals and 'soul care'
RAYMOND — Rev. Chris Antal has an intimate knowledge of the not-so-glorious effects of war on enlisted soldiers and veterans.
Antal, son of a Vietnam veteran who resides in Portsmouth, is director of Faith Community Development for Soldier’s Heart, an organization created to address the psychological wounds endured by U.S. veterans.
Recently, he presented a three-day workshop at The (W)hole Point Institute in Raymond titled “Restoring Soul to our War-torn Soldiers & Soothing Wounded Hearts of Us All.”
“Our organization, Soldier’s Heart — the name comes out of the Civil War era, to name an invisible wound, but it was being recognized that soldiers were being affected in some ways that aren’t visible on the outside,” said Antal. “That’s our focus. Our mission is to tend to the spiritual, emotional and moral wounds of war and military service, and spirituality and community are the pillars of our approach.”
Antal, a Unitarian Universalist minister, was in seminary at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Though the thought of joining the military had never crossed his mind before then, Antal said he felt called to join the Army as a chaplain.
There he served in Afghanistan and as a hospital chaplain at a regional trauma center.
“When I was released from active duty (in March of 2013), I didn’t feel I could go right back to the parish after what I had been through,” said Antal. “And I also had a new kind of awareness for the need of soul care for our nation’s veterans.”
That was the primary purpose of the Raymond workshop, said Antal, who explained his goal was to host a conversation and equip the participants — local faith leaders, community leaders and veterans — with awareness and exercises to engage the head, the heart and the gut to confront the true human environmental costs of war.
“It’s also to examine our relationship with our nation’s military and our responsibility that we all share as Americans ... so we’re exploring what it means to be a citizen of a country that has largest military force in the history of the universe and what responsibilities we have and what kind of moral leadership is required of us,” he said.
Antal practices several techniques and rituals to address both Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and “moral injury’’ due to shame for acts committed during war.
One such ritual he presented at the Raymond workshop was a Samurai Tea Ceremony, where those involved absorb the beauty of their surroundings and talk little and only about the tea being consumed, in an effort to take their minds off their war experiences.
Raymond resident Bob Howarth, a Vietnam vet who attended the workshop, said the entire experience was rewarding.
“For me, as a veteran, it was a spiritual moment, part of a healing process,” Howarth said. “I was a bit skeptical going in, because this was the first encounter I’ve had with this type of thing, but Rev. Chris was a heck of a speaker and he really knew his stuff. I definitely found some healing I was looking for.”
Howarth, a Reiki master, was also able to share his knowledge and his craft with others during the three-day event. Reiki, he explained, is channeling one’s universal life force and distributing that energy properly to promote healing.
“I started on this journey of learning Reiki more or less just for myself, and now I’ve been able to spread it out to other veterans, give demonstrations and apply Reiki to friends of mine because it’s helped me and I know it’s helped a lot of other people as well,” said Howarth. “That’s sort of what this healing process is all about: taking care of our veterans.”
Alaya Chadwick, founder of The (W)hole Point Institute, said her practice of healing and wholeness, which she as taught for more than 35 years, fits hand in hand with Antal’s approach.
“Stepping outside the bounds of traditional PTSD treatments, both WPI and Soldier’s Heart offer alternative responses for our veterans and their families in need,” she said.
Chadwick said the Raymond workshop was the first time Antal had tested a POD approach, bringing together the three elements in faith leaders, veterans and community members, all for the spiritual and emotional benefit of the veterans.
“This takes full advantage of multiple resources that can be brought to focus and respond to the great need of our returning warriors,” she said. “I personally know two veterans whose lives have been transformed by this combination of approaches and who had given up on ever feeling better.”