“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 Healer
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.”