Heaven in the Midst of Hell: A Quaker Chaplain's View of the War in Iraq
Author: Sheri Snively
Publisher: Raven Oaks Press (2010)
Binding: Hardcover, 272 pages
War exposes the divide between who we think we are and how we behave in extreme situations. Commander Snively has crafted a vivid, unsettling, and ultimately hopeful personal account of the effects of the Iraq war on soldiers and civilians alike who find themselves astride that dilemma.
From her unique perspective as a Navy Quaker chaplain serving with Marines working amid the boredom, tension, and seemingly meaningless carnage at a trauma hospital and morgue between Ramadi and Fallujah, Commander Snively negotiates a compassionate path to healing marked not by formulaic answers, but by an open and questioning spirit.
Lavishly adorned with the author's own evocative photographs, Heaven in the Midst of Hell is a compelling and unforgettable journey into the human soul.
A Quaker Chaplain writing about war? I couldn’t imagine it, but I agreed to review the book.
What a blessing. The book is beautiful: in design and in content.
With eight Marines, Commander Sheri Snively deployed to Iraq to serve in a trauma hospital and morgue between Ramadi and Fallujah. She records the journey in vivid detail.
Snively took photographs and kept a journal. She writes of impressions of war as she experienced it. “In a strange paradox, the gorgeous, colorful Ramadi sunset view from my rooftop patio indeed reminded me of the black-and-white western reruns. It looked and sounded like a town in the Wild West. In many ways it is.”
She wrestled with the issue of war. As a Quaker, she believed in peace. “Tonight a young Marine in his early twenties was in Bed 6. He was not so much crumpled in body as he was crumpled in spirit...They were four young guys riding together in a vehicle…Now one is gone. Only three remain. That’s the way it happens here; one or two are taken out…These are the faces of the all-volunteer force.
Her experiences and memories are personal. “But no matter what I was doing, it gave me comfort to know I was surrounded by prayer…A small Shiva idol, a mercy Buddha, a rosary, a cross, a few sacred stones…all combined to form a circle of ongoing prayer.”
Snively speaks of “heart connections.” She writes of the beauty of nature and relationships. She writes of everyday items such as Coke cans and coffee creamers; she writes of memorials and body counts. With equal candor, she addresses spiritual questions and emotional conflicts. She discusses pacifism and the spiritual crises she faced during her training and her deployment. She searched to reconcile her beliefs with her life choices.
As a chaplain, she introduced healing methodologies; prayer, spiritual conversation, meditation and the practice of Reiki - a form of meditative prayer and hands-on energy therapy. Patients responded to her ability to cross cultures, religions, nationalities and gender. She broke through barriers in search of a commonality that allowed her patients to heal.
Snively writes from her heart and soul. Together she and “her” Marines faced life, death, the carnage of war and the effects of PTSD. Snively shares the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the questions for which there are no answers.
Reviewed by: Pat McGrath Avery (2010)