The Wounded Healer
This morning I am thinking about the wounded healer – coincidentally Sarah mentioned yesterday, in her charge to the congregation, the wounded healer. As we minister to a paining world, we, at the same time, minister to our own wounds. Our own wounds of alienation, separation, isolation, and loneliness. Wounds that go to the very heart of the human condition, our own state of brokenness.
Loneliness, in particular, stands out to me as an epidemic in the West; so many wear veneers of joy, to mask and cover over their true state as peoples living lives of quiet desperation. Acutely aware of this sense of isolation then, we undergo an intense search for the experience of unity and community, seeking love, friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood, any meaningful connection to free us from this sense of isolation, that we might escape its immobilizing effect on our lives. Our desperate longing for immediate satisfaction, and the quick fix, becomes a sort of false god in our lives. An elusive possibility that we’re ever seeking for, but no matter how hard we try, we can never seem to find. There is a sense that this sort of loneliness is a scourge that we rightly rail against. But there is another sense, that it is simply an inextricably enmeshed part of the human condition, that reconciling ourselves to can be seen as, quite counter-intuitively, a gift.
Our sense of loneliness reveals to us our inner world, our inner emptiness perhaps, and misunderstanding that inner world can be a very destructive thing. As Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ And my experience has certainly been that self-examination and our sense of loneliness are two sides of the same coin. That kind of interior awareness arises from a place of stillness, being still with yourself. When we want to give up this sense of loneliness, and give up our incompleteness too soon, by launching ourselves out into the world and finding those quick fixes, we impose upon the world expectations and demands that the world cannot meet. We may superficially plug our experience of loneliness, but in so doing, we heighten our own sense of alienation. We cover over the intuitive reality that no other, no man or woman, no lover, no community, can really ever satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition.
We kind of know that on one level, but it's far more comfortable for us to play in the realm of fantasy, to tell ourselves stories about a coming completeness, so we rarely look upon this truth. We continue to believe that if only we can meet x, we will feel complete; or if we’ve already met x, if only x would be more like y, we will feel complete. Or within community, if only it was more like this and not that, we would feel more complete. It sort of goes back to the ‘planes of reality’ idea I was talking about last week. This narrative that we are striving towards completeness is everywhere, particularly within religious vocabulary, so you can’t really get away from it, but you can frame your understanding of that idea in a better way, seeing that narrative as part of the superficial plain, but there’s a deeper journey to be had. So, if we are wedded to this unrealistic expectation, and project this need out into the world, we can’t help but have a hostile reaction, when we discover that nothing, no person, no people, are able to meet that expectation for us, and fill our void. And that is a bitter place to be.
So, when the minister (and I’m using that term broadly to refer to all of us), has these false expectations and illusions, she prevents herself from using her own loneliness (because she can’t see her own loneliness) to understand the human condition, and subsequently when she then encounters the other, unable to understand their own suffering, she has no tools to do anything about it. Which is not to say, the individual minister can be a physician to all, or should even strive to be such, that opposite extreme is its own destructive illusion. This is rather about understanding our own process of becoming. So, in recognising loneliness, we acknowledge our shared human condition. And as a result of knowing that wound in ourselves, we cannot help but show even more care, when we minister to that wound in others. In Japanese culture there is a practice known as kintsugi in which broken pottery is repaired with lacquer which has been mixed with gold, silver, or platinum, so that the brokenness is highlighted, rather than concealed, the cracks speaking to the history of the object as something worth honouring. There is then a deeper awareness of the object in question. A deep understanding of our own pain can convert that weakness into a strength, a source of healing to the other who is lost in their darkness and their own misunderstood suffering.
Thomas, in the Gospel of John, can be seen as someone who is struggling to understand and reconcile themselves to their own suffering. Usually, when we’re thinking about doubting Thomas, it’s his tendency to doubt, whether that’s a good or bad thing, which is generally the focus, but instead we can think about his encounter through the lens of wounds. Thomas obviously feels himself to be existentially wounded in some way, unable to reconcile himself to all this. He’s having a crisis moment. And Jesus appears to Thomas in the locked room, and what does he do? He shows Thomas his own wounds, his own pierced flesh. The wounds of Jesus are the vehicles that Thomas is able to use to reconcile himself to the wounds in his own life. The other story that we had was that of Chiron the Centaur, from Greek Mythology. His story is probably the classic story, the archetypal story, of the wounded healer. The one who is rejected by his mother from birth for looking hideous, and despite the deep wounds that his rejection must have left in his soul, he takes that pain, that wound, and becomes the most renowned healer in Greek mythology, using his skills and wisdom to help and train others.
The Wounded healer then, is potentially all of us. We all have our wounds of course, but the Wounded healer has a self-awareness to accompany those wounds. She is able to see how her own wounds have affected her, and as such, how comparable wounds might affect those around her. When we are able to use our wounds as a source of insight in this way, and as such use them to help the other, we show to the world that we can heal the other despite our wounds, or not despite, but because of, our wounds, and in so doing, we offer a paining world hope that renewal is possible. And that further to this, even those in the midst of their suffering can perhaps even see the possibility of hope that their suffering is in fact an opening to some new possibility of renewal before them – an opportunity to use those wounds for the betterment of the other. Let us then engage in our own reflections. When we see clearly those cracks in our lives, why not try filling them with gold, and see what happens?