Friday, May 1, 2009

Wounded Healer Meets Wounded

Oh God, help to me to believe the truth about myself,
no matter how BEAUTIFUL it is.

This morning I was having my morning cocktail with breakfast. My morning cocktail Total, cheerios, All Bran, Craisins, banana and soy milk. Added to that is the “thought of the day” from the morning paper. Today it read, “The world does not require so much to be informed as reminded”, Hanna H. More, English religious writer. That is exactly for the reason for this effort. It is not designed to tell you anything new but to remind you, “to be who you already are” [Merton].

“Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived.” How often do you and I hear that expression? Is it possible then my life is “a mystery story” which can best be understood, only, through the lenses of the whole life story of Jesus, who became the Christ. The historical Jesus, became the Christ of God, through His Pascal Mystery. We too, can become Christian, only when we follow the same path, the same way. There is no Christianity without crucifixion . Through the process of suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, we are led to ask for a new spirit for our new life. This new life is yours and mine precisely because of our experience in participating in the above mentioned mystery. Because of our experience we see we are now opened up to a new way of believing and active living. We also open ourselves up to the never-ending quest for answers to the mystery of love, life, death and rebirth. We are encouraged to embrace, to live with the question so we can someday, through some very ordinary event, be awakened to the beginning of the answer. Is this the end? No. The reason why every answer will itself lead us into a new question, or questions. The more we know, the more we want to find out. “The nearer we get to God, the less we know about God.” This process continues our whole life long. It is endless, sorry, my mistake, it is not endless. The questioning is only endless in this life. In the next life, the questioning ceases, because St. Paul says, “We will know as we ourselves are known”.

There is great comfort in the following quotation from Carl Jung’s essay, “Stages of Life”. In this he tells us,
“The serious problem in life, however, are never fully solved. If they should appear to be so, it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of our problems seems to lie not in the solution but in our working at it incessantly. This alone preserves stultification and petrifaction.”

In the last posting I began the introduction to Thomas the Apostle, who was not present when the Risen Christ appeared to the rest of the disciples. He is told by his fellow disciples , “we have seen the Lord”. He wanted none of that. So he said to the, “Unless I see the marks of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” To me this appears not to have anything to do with doubt. This is not about doubt, this is about disbelief. To my way of thinking, Thomas has given doubt a bad name! I’ve heard so many sermons about “Doubting Thomas” and to be honest, given a few myself. All of this was a mistake. I like the definition of faith which defines “faith as doubt grounded in hope”. That provides us with a positive understanding of doubt. George Hermes states the following, “The starting point and chief principle of every science and hence of Theology also, is that not only methodical doubt, but positive doubt. One can believe only what one is perceived to be true from reasonable ground. Consequently, one must have the courage to continue doubting until one has found reasonable grounds to satisfy their reason.”

The following is a quotation from the book, Living Liturgy. The Gospel story is usually called the story of “Doubting Thomas”. Indeed, this characterization of Thomas effects the translation of verse 27: “Do not doubt, but believe”. [NRSV] Read in this way, the story describes Thomas’ movement from doubt to faith and leads us to set up doubt and belief as opposites. This creates two problems.
First, doubt is NOT the opposite of faith and one does not preclude to the other.
For example, the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples the Risen Christ in Galileh, just before His ascension. Matthew says of the disciples, “When they saw Him, they worshipped, but they doubted.” [28:17] Apparently, they believed enough to worship the Risen Christ, but doubts persist. Doubt and faith CAN coexist.

The second problem with the traditional reading is this: it misrepresents the theology of the Evangelists. Our Lectionary accurately reflects what the Evangelists wrote: Jesus responds to Thomas assertion, “I would not believe” [20:25] by chiding him, “do not be unbelieving, but believe.” [20:27] In other word, the issue is not that Thomas doubted, but he did not believe.”

The Risen Christ carries in His body the results of His crucifixion. He has wounded hands, feet and side. In the above encounter with Thomas, He uses His wounds to bring Thomas to faith.

As we look at our life journey, we encounter the same reality that Thomas encountered. It is happening today through many people who minister to those who are suffering inside and outside the Church environment. When we suffer a loss of any kind, we need to hear the story of someone who has gone before us, and experienced the same trauma, person or persons who are now alive, healthy and well. Survivors who are living life and living life to the fullest. We need transformed people in our lives who have been to their Calvary. People who chose not to stay in their crucifixion, who chose life, and a new, richer way of living. We need people in our lives who chose life over death, people who chose to be survivors rather than the victim, people who are now living the transformed, transfigured and consequently richer lives.

A number of years ago, I met a young girl, let’s call her Patricia, who was a junior in high school. Later I had the privilege being the celebrant at her marriage. One day she called me and told me she had lost a baby. Over the next few of years, I received the same call two more times. When she had lost her third child, I said to her, “Patricia, I don’t have a clue what to say to you. I can’t even guess what you are suffering, but I will have Julie Gonzales call you.” A curt question came back, “and how many babies has she lost?”. “Five in one year”, was my answer. (Julie was pregnant with quads and lost all four babies. She then got pregnant with twins and lost one of the twins and eventually Erica was born. She is now serving in the Armed Forces.) I journeyed with Julie through the grieving process. I never allow individuals who have gone through the grieving process not to share the wonderful gifts that have come to them from their crucifixions and resurrection. They were the suffering Jesus, who are now the living presence, of the Risen Christ. It is their vocation now, their calling, to be the ones who will allow the suffering person to enter into their woundedness.

It is in this encounter that the presence of the Risen Christ becomes a reality. Because of their experience of the Pascal Death they are now a source of transformation and transfiguration. This encounter happens in the thousands upon thousands of support groups and 12 Step Programs throughout our country and throughout the world. We have the support groups for parents who have lost babies, and groups for cancer survivors. This is what happens in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gambler’s Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc, etc. In the fellowship of the 12 Step Program, stories are told in brutal simplicity and sincerity, thereby exposing the deepest wounds. From this encounter, between the wounded healer and the wounded, hope is exchanged. “Heart speaks to heart.” St. Augustine has these wonderful words, “in my deepest wounds, I see your glory and it dazzles me.”

Suffering of itself has no redeeming value. When it is brought to prayer, when it is brought to Eucharist, it is transformed and we are transfigured by God’s grace, and are slowly transfigured into the living person of the Living Christ. As I look back on my life, like everybody else, there is pain and suffering. My experience, however, is that after each painful experience a person is placed in my life with whom I can identify and to whom I can offer hope and understanding. This hope and understanding would not be present in my life had I not gone through that particular pain and suffering. This is a result of God’s transfiguring and transforming love. It is pure gift, grace.

You also will find there will never be anything you have gone through or will go through that God does not take and weave into the pattern of your life. “In God’s world, there are no trashcans,” [Rohr]. God is the great recycler. Because it is woven into the pattern of your life, people will be placed in your life who will learn from you. From telling your story, which is revealing your woundedness, they too will experience hope renewal and resurrection. In God’s mercy and compassion, “Death is not an end, death is a beginning.” Your wounds brought to prayer have become sacred wounds. A place for wounded people to be admitted to, so they can encounter the light, life, love of God, which is now present in your wounds. Their wounds no longer are a place of guilt, fear and shame. Their wounds reveal to them what was been revealed to you, which is the light, life and love of a Prodigal God, or a higher power. Now they too, have a story to tell. Now they too, have good news to share. Now they too, become good news. Now they too, become Gospel. Now they too, are beacons of faith, hope and love, in a world of darkness. Yes, in their lives, that place of death, is exactly where the fountain of hope springs up. Yes, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ lives within you and me right now.

“Life then is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived.” We are living out that mystery right now. “Behold, I make all things new. It is springing forth. Do you not see it?”