Pastoral Care

Encountering Myself as Wounded Healer

Although I appreciate the work of both Carl Jung and Henri Nouwen, I have been hesitant to embrace the archetype of the wounded healer.  In part because I have seen it used to allow clergy and other spiritual leaders to bleed all over those under their spiritual care.   I’ve seen it allow some leaders to more identify with their being “wounded” then with their being “healers”. I know that’s not the point of the archetype , nor what Nouwen was getting at, but it still has seemed that the archetype isn’t always very helpful.

Also, it has been clear to me both in Spiritual Direction and as a pastor that due to family and life circumstance, my spiritual and metaphorical woundedness parallels the amount of  physical woundedness I’ve experienced over my life time of 40 plus years:  a broken bone, and one fairly serious illness, but mostly just scrapes and bruises and the common cold and occasional flu.  That to say in comparison to most of the people I minister with and to, to identify as wounded would be like my attempting to sympathise with an amputee by talking about my many scraped knees over my lifetime mostly incurred as a child attempting to jump bikes, and pointing to the barely noticeable scars from those long healed minor wounds. In other words entirely and completely inappropriate!

By the grace of God and by circumstance, I’ve experienced my amount scrapes and a serious illness but most of it is in the past, and has healed well. I’m not wounded.

Or so I thought.

Over the past several months three members of Church of  Jesus Christ, Reconciler have lost parents.  Since their parents were not part of our worshiping community we did not hold the funeral services.   As I reflected on this with my co-pastor I felt that we should offer a worship service where their parents could be remembered and in which we could grieve with them.  When I first had the idea it just made sense to offer them the opportunity to have their loved ones remembered in a worship service in their primary spiritual community.

As I have sat with this, and as the day of the Requiem Service approached I found myself in a fit of melancholy, sad and restless.   Finally it came to the surface, over 20 years ago I lost my older half-brother in a freak boating accident, he was 30, I was in my early 20’s.  He lived in New Orléans I lived with my parents in Los Angeles.  The last time I had seen him was not long after my 12th birthday.   It has been my brother’s life time since I last saw him, and I was still just a boy.  A great deal of loss, that simply will never be regained.  Add to this that due to a number of things school, finances and timing I was unable to attend my brothers funeral.  Not only was I unable to ritually remember my brother in my faith community, but I didn’t get a chance to do so with my family and those who gathered at his funeral in New Orléans.   Over the years since, I have done a great deal of grief work around his passing and my grief and loss including missing out on the funeral- written poems, created a whole series of paintings on loss and grief including this significant event.  Told the story in various settings, and cried again and again.  Mostly, have found healing.  Except in this one way, I have never remembered my brother and ritually lifted him up to God .   The Requiem service is as much for myself as for those in my congregation who are grieving.

Here was I think the archetype of the Wounded Healer working itself out in me and my ministry.   My loss and lack, my wound (mostly healed, but in need of some further healing), met up with the woundedness of those with whom I’m ministering. I’m not sure holding a requiem service would have occurred to me if I hadn’t had this lack, this wound around my brother’s death.  My own need actually allowed me to effectively minister to my congregation, and in the process I’m finding healing and resolution, of something I’ve long carried with me, and thought could never be healed.

This is how the wounded healer should work, or so it seems to me, from within the space of healing.  From the space of already having begun to heal.  In that space one then can find resources to help others heal, and in that same moment find further healing for oneself as the wounded healer.