The Wounded Healer

This was meaningful to me this week.  I had coffee with a new friend while our kids flipped themselves out of the hammock in the backyard. We started talking about church and faith and like most people, I think, I have a few wounds.  Or if not open wounds, then pretty obvious scars.   When certain words or certain attitudes come across my path, I am triggered to responses I had decades ago.  I am used to these times and I’m not sure they are supposed to go away. But what I think has been happening is that I have been continuously looking to integrate them….somehow….  My new friend asked me how did I think the wounds played into how I could lead people and my family?  Good question.  (She should be a spiritual director!)  She put the right words to what has been happening over the last few years.

She left and I started thinking.  Then I went to my bookshelf and saw Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer.  I had never read it actually.  It seemed apt that I did this week.

From The Wounded Healer

“[We are looking] for a new kind of authority and we must consider what the nature of this authority will be.  To name it, I cannot find a better word than compassion.  Compassion must become the core and even the nature of authority.  When the Christian leader is a man of God for the future generation he can be so insofar as he is able to make the compassion of God with man – which is visible in Jesus Christ – credible in his own world.

The compassionate man stands in the midst of his people but does not get caught in the conformist forces of the peer group, because through his compassion he is able to avoid the distance of pity as well as the exclusiveness of sympathy.  Compassion is born when we discover in the centre of our own existence not only that God is God and man is man but also that our neighbour is really our fellow man.

Through compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that men feel resides also in our own hearts, that the cruelty that the world knows all too well is also rooted in our own impulses.  Through compassion we also sense our hope for forgiveness in our friends’ eyes and our hatred in their bitter mouths.  When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we can do the same.  For a compassionate man, nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.

This compassion is authority because it does not tolerate the pressures of the in-group but breaks through the boundaries between languages and countries, rich and poor, educated and illiterate.  This compassion pulls people away from the fearful clique into the large world where they can see that every human face is the face of a neighbour.  Thus the authority of compassion is the possibility of man to forgive his brother, because forgiveness is only real for him who has discovered the weakness of his friends and the sins of his enemy in his own heart and is willing to call every human being his brother.”

A life done together.  That’s what strikes me as the key to this woundedness we carry….I carry.

Remember that movie, What Dreams May Come, with Robin williams and Cuba Goodings?  I remember getting a lecture at church about how evil it was because of how it portrayed heaven as a place that you went and it could be however you imagined it.  But when I finally did watch it, I was floored by the Christ in it.  Robin William’s character had died in an accident.  And his wife left behind started to descend into a depression, very dark and unrelenting.  He could see she was starting to lose her grip on life from where he was in heaven.  I remember he then left heaven and set out on a journey to find her soul – in some weird place between life and death.  And when he found her, he tried to convince her to snap out of it, to come back, to see sense.  But she couldn’t, it was too dark.  So he then chose to descend with her into it – to be with her in her darkness.  To not leave but to know what it was like for her, to experience the darkness, to be wounded right alongside his beloved.  And in that moment of With-ness, of compassionate life-with her, in the moment he chose to know what she knew, to live with her even in her darkness, she was saved.  In that moment, the scene plunged the two right into a beautiful scene kids running and screaming, the sun shining and the two lovers alive in the light.  She was back, she was healed, her life was not overcome.  Because of the choice to descend into compassion, into him knowing what she had to know, there was resurrection, there was life.

Our lives are Good Fridays into Sundays over and over and over. But they are not just Sundays.  Our wounds, when they are deep, will never heal into something you cannot see and don’t remember.  But they will be the source of resurrection, the locus of grace where we can recognize the other in our own darkness.  And where we can recognize the Presence of the one who created this life together and descended to the ultimate with-us place to bring us back to the light.  Its the “Emanuelle Economy” – the movement of presence and grace through the compassion and With-Us-ness that flows from the very first of creation to that hill outside the city and through each of us to each other.

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