Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Embracing Our Woundedness

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
St. Thomas, Ontario

Have you ever, like me, been walking down the street and come across a man or woman talking to themselves? Have you ever been in the food court of a mall and seen someone whose body was so contorted by disease that they must be fed by a care-taker? Have you avoided a visitation or funeral because it's just too overwhelming?

These things, these seemingly open and viewable wounds, disturb both you and I and sometimes leave us crossing the street, finding another seat, or avoiding the open casket.

In doing so, we are doing ourselves a disservice. I believe that the major reason for our avoidance is that we have not come to terms with our own woundedness, our own brokenness. If I can project an image of strength - emotionally, mentally, and physically - then I do not have to turn inward and look at my own wounds, though they may be less obvious to the outside world than the woman with schizophrenia, the man who was severely wounded in a car wreck, or the person who has died.

Along with our yearning for love and acceptance, woundedness is the common thread that weaves its way through millions of people on our planet. But instead of turning toward it or learning to use it as an educational tool in learning who we are as creatures, we most often run directly in the other direction. We immerse ourselves in the internet and social media, we shop, we watch countless hours of TV or movies, or we just keep busy somehow, whether it's with friends, sports, or volunteering. None of these things are intrinsically negative, but when used to continuously douse our pain, they come up well short.

So if keeping busy distracting ourselves is not the answer, then what is? As frightening and raw as it may seem, stopping and doing a 180 is essential. There is the saying "The only way out is through," and that applies here. It may feel like walking through a cemetery on Hallowe'en night, but the only way to find healing for our personal wounds is to face them directly, be gentle with ourselves, and then walk up to them and examine what we have tried to avoid for days, weeks, months, or years. Perhaps it is the loss of a relationship, the loss of health, the loss of dreams we once had, or the loss of a close relative. Perhaps it is deep loneliness and depression. My spiritual mentor, the Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen, wisely wrote that we should not automatically jump head-first into the abyss of our woundedness; that's too much to handle. Instead, and often with professional help, we mend the edges of that great chasm, slowly finding healing.

Returning to what I wrote about a little earlier, we encounter other wounded people every single day - sometimes their woundedness is obvious, sometimes it is not. But our woundedness, my friends, is something that should bring us together and spawn understanding, compassion, love, and friendship, rather than alienation.

Let us make a commitment today to realize our oneness with all people, and to slowly walk through our woundedness, not around it.

Mark Andrew Nouwen