Healing and Wholeness:
A Wounded Community of Healing

  Beneath the Longing © Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

 Beneath the Longing © Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

Fourth Sunday in Lent • March 11, 2018
Recommended Readings: Romans 12:1-18
Pastor Jeff Wells

          If you are not familiar with it, the Talmud is an ancient collection of stories and legal interpretations by rabbis composed in the first centuries of modern Judaism. Here’s a legend from the Talmud that is pertinent for our reflection today. Listen carefully. 

One day, Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai’s cave.
He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.” 
“Where is he?” Rabbi Yoshua asked.
“Sitting at the gates of the city,” said Elijah. 
“How shall I know him?”
Elijah responded, “He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all of their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But the Messiah unbinds one wound at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment’.”

Now, this is a Jewish text and the Messiah in this story is not Jesus. But, the point the story tries to make applies to Jesus, as well: the Messiah wants to be ready at all times to offer himself to facilitate somebody else’s healing and wholeness. And isn’t that just like Jesus – always thinking about other people’s welfare. He’s got his own wounds and he doesn’t ignore them, but he does not let them rule his existence or get the best of him. 

          Jesus’s efforts to heal – to heal persons, communities, and social systems – played a big part in nearly everything he said and did in his teaching, preaching, and living. And he wants us to follow his example. The basic message that infused Jesus’ entire ministry was this: “the kin-dom is already coming upon us.” The kin-dom is already here! The question is, “How are we going to respond? What are we going to do about it? 

          There’s a huge need for creating spaces where healing and wholeness can happen. We are all wounded in various ways and in varying degrees. Some of our wounds are inflicted upon us. Some we inflict upon ourselves. Some arise from our relationships with other human beings. Other wounds simply come with being human. Some of us are wounded by oppression or marginalization; some by rejection and alienation; others of us are wounded in relationships with family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances. None of us gets to completely avoid being wounded. 

          Yet, at the same time, even in the midst of our woundedness, we have the potential to be healers – wounded healers, as spiritual writer and teacher Henri Nouwen named it.[1]  Did you catch that? You can be wounded and also be an instrument for helping someone else to find healing and wholeness. The wounds that we hold in our bodies, minds, and spirits do not just disappear. So, we have to learn to experience healing and wholeness and to help others experience these even in the face of wounds and scars that are still very present. 
         
           And perhaps even more profound, together we have the potential to be a wounded community of healing.We can be more than just a collection of wounded individuals with an intention to seek healing and wholeness. We can become a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. This body of Christ that we form together can be a powerfully healing community. 

          I chose the scripture passage that Monica read because it offers a partial description of what I think it means to be a wounded community of healing. Listen to some of the advice Paul gives in his letter: 

  1. We all have gifts. Offer your gifts to the community – to the body.
  2. Love each other. 
  3. Be patient with one another.
  4. Be willing to help each other as needed. 
  5. Practice extravagant hospitality. 
  6. Enjoy one another’s company, celebrating your differences as well as those things that you hold in common (OK, Paul doesn’t quite say that, but it fits with his ethos).

This passage is all about how to be messy and wounded together in community. The description doesn’t include everything I would want. In particular, it doesn’t include the explicit suggestion that we act as wounded healers for one another, but it does describe actions that contribute to that purpose: love, caring, patience, hospitality, offering ourselves for others.   

          Paul was addressing a church – a community of messy, wounded human beings. In that sense, the Church of the Village resembles that church in Rome. We are not a perfect community. In fact, we are all imperfect and wounded – you are wounded, every person in the pews around you is wounded, your lay leadership and your pastors – we are all wounded. In a way, that’s a good thing, because we would not be able to help one another heal, if we had no experience of being wounded ourselves. When Jesus said, “The kin-dom is already upon us,” I believe that one thing he wanted us to understand from that is that we need to be serious and intentional about creating space for love and healing and wholeness in our lives and in our communities.

          Being a wounded community of healing is not about “saving” or “fixing” each another. We need to be liberated from the illusion we are striving for some perfect state. We will never get to the point where we will be completely free of all fear, loneliness, confusion, doubt, pain, or failure. But what a wounded community of healing can do is help free us to love and be loved and to find joy and purpose, in the presence of our wounds

Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in another letter to a church in Corinth: 

“What a wonderful God we have…the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does God do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us.” [2]

Now, the word translated as “comfort” in this passage also means “to call someone to come near” or “to treat in an inviting or friendly way.” We continue to care for our own wounds, like the Messiah in the legend did. But, through coming near to one another for our mutual healing, our focus can shift from our woundedness to our wholeness, from our brokenness to our belovedness, from ourselves to our connectedness to those around us, from our inability to our amazing gifts, from death to abundant life

          Of course, we recognize that we are in different relationships to our own woundedness and to the wounded community depending on the circumstances of our lives at any given time. So, sometimes, we are strongly centered and anchored and we are able to help others. And at other times, we ourselves are so wounded, that all we can do is receive love, support, comfort, and prayers. Often, we are somewhere in between. That’s why creating wounded communities of healing is so crucial. So that, there will always be some around us who are able to offer listening, comfort, and love.

          For example, we create a version of healing community every Tuesday at the Hope for Our Neighbors in Need food pantry. The community that shows up there every week is very wounded. Yet, I witness healing happening there over time. We often cannot change the underlying circumstances of persons lives, but I know at least some of them are experiencing healing as we invite them to sing, we listen to their stories, we pray for their concerns, and we offer them a sense of hope. 

          Already, the Church of the Village community engages in this ministry of healing and wholeness for one another through regular healing prayer. Yet, as important as that practice is, the ways our community can provide space for healing and wholeness are so much broader than prayer. We also offer pastoral care through the pastors, the Minister of Care, and others amongst us. Beyond these, God’s call to come near to one another to facilitate each other’s healing is profoundly about hospitality. It is about inviting the wounded person in front of or sitting next to us to come near so we can hear their pain and hold their woundedness. Then, when they are able, they can do the same for us. We promote this by forming small groups and building deeper relationships. The Church of the Village also promotes psychological and spiritual healing when we stand together as one body with those wounded by families that reject them because of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. We facilitate healing community when we stand together against oppression, racial prejudice, and economic injustice.  

          We provide an environment of wounded healing, then, by learning to trust and love one another and to be vulnerable enough to share our pain and wounds with one another. We cannot make space for that unless we have learned to yield space to another person. We have to make room for the other’s woundedness and pain. If I am in a conversation with you and I fill up all the space with my own woundedness, then there is no room for your woundedness or healing. 
When we can center ourselves in God and in mutual love, then God can free us, in spite of or perhaps because of our wounds – free us to be wounded healers for one another. Henri Nouwen, put it this way: 

When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear. Then, our presence is no longer threatening and demanding, but inviting and liberating.

So I encourage all of us to think about the ways that we can be wounded healers for those around us. Consider how you can keep dressing your wounds, but also invite others to come near and receive comfort and care and love. And keep thinking and share your ideas about how we can continue to grow as a wounded community of healing, for ourselves and for hurting strangers and neighbors around us.

 

 

 [1] Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (1972).
 [2] 2 Corinthians 1:3, Living Bible translation.