On wounds and healing communities

“Hospitality becomes community as it creates a unity based on the shared confession of our basic brokenness and on a shared hope.” Henri Nouwen, Wounded Healerimg_3726

Every since I discovered Henri Nouwen in college, I have frequently returned to his writings for deep introspection, for a movement towards God and others that is marked by weakness and humility.  He seemed to embody his own concept of being a “wounded healer,”  a paradoxical concept that has precedence, of course, in Jesus’ own path: … by his wounds we are healed…(Isaiah 53:5).

Nouwen is not advocating for a minister to flaunt his or her wounds in a kind of  “spiritual exhibitionism” or trite comfort: I also suffer from this or that… Rather, he calls for a “constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all men share”(88).

I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my own community in Darda.  This kind of ministry approach helps level the power structures at play when a white, educated American enters a poor Roma community.  How easy it is to minister from that “distance” my privilege allows me—to serve “those in need” from a position of someone who is healthy, comfortable, and allegedly “less in need.”

But when I am in touch with my own deep wounds, it causes me to remain open to sharing others’ wounds as well.  Not from a distance of sympathy or pity, both of which do not require emotional involvement, but as a common experience of shared humanity. And thus, instead of the “minister serving the rest,”  a space opens for mutual transformation.  As Nouwen says:

“A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for new vision.  Mutual confession then becomes a mutual deepening of hope, and sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength” (94).

This is hard for me to do.  I want to appear strong and put together.  But I thank God for my Darda community who demonstrates and models what it is to be open with painful wounds in the midst of their often extravagant hospitality.  Our prayer groups have become just this—a sharing of brokenness and prayer that is molding us into  (I hope) a healing community.

Today, our prayer group will convene in the home of an elderly member who recently broke her femur on an ice patch.  She sits in her home waiting for healing with few distractions (she cannot read to pass the time).  Not everyone in the home is a Christian, but because of the deep value of radical hospitality in the Roma culture, we have been invited in anyway. (One man recently told me with great passion: “Day or night, even if it is in the middle of the night, our door is always open to you.”)

We will sit together, listen, and pray together. The environment will not be perfect—in fact, a first-time visitor might be less than impressed.  But this woman’s slow-healing femur represents our wounded community—we come together for healing, and for hope.

“Community arises where the sharing of pain takes place, not as a stifling form of self-complaint, but as a recognition of God’s saving promises.”

The Arm of God

Lately I’ve been mulling about in Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant, the “Arm of God” who is pictured as the one bringing about forgiveness of sins, restoration and return from exile into joy, prosperity, and peace.

The prophecies and promises are thrilling—and yet feel diametrically opposed to our present world’s palpable uncertainty in which I am squirming.  Justice and mercy feel cold as a waning shadow when I read about the refugees braving the below-freezing weather in next door Serbia.  Humility seems a pipe dream as I cringe at the pompous rhetoric by politicians and those covering their ears while screaming their opinions.  Joy and peace seem only a dream as I listen to yet another terrible story of someone growing up in poverty and domestic violence.

The more I contemplate the description of the Servant…

He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him…A man of sorrows acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him

…the more my soul flickers towards the mystery of this—a mystery that is perhaps only glimpsed in moments of silence, away from the cacophony of the world stage.  How can the Arm of Yahweh be so broken and unattractive?

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Perhaps this speaks to our human nature’s tendency to revere the strong and powerful while cynically despising the weak and unattractive.

And yet it is this Servant that I can imagine moving easily and without fanfare among those who are in physical or spiritual exile, those who are despised and forgotten, or deemed weak and useless.

Yesterday, in the weekly prayer group that is becoming the ‘glue’ of the Little Darda Church, someone shared how it used to feel like there was a heavy rock pressing down on him all the time—a burden that was hard to carry every day. Now, he feels a freedom and lightness, a joy and peace.  He is moving toward forgiveness toward those who acted unbearably cruel toward him when he was young, he is resting in peace even when it appears that someone is constantly stealing his firewood.

I felt tears clutch at my throat.  I have been watching this man slowly turn towards the Servant over the last months, transformation slow as a dripping faucet to fill up a sink.  And yet, here it is again—the mystery of grace, the incarnate God who walks with us in suffering and hardship, who holds the hope of the future of restoration, redemption, and full joy.

“Give me your burdens, ” the Servant says, his scarred face alight with a deep love that looks into our souls.  And suddenly, as we decide to let our eyes meet his jarringly steadfast gaze, he becomes the most majestic and beautiful sight of all.