This reflection is a part of a month-long series titled, 30 Days of Healing, as we seek to be instruments of peace and change.
“Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: Who can take away suffering without entering it?”
– Henri Nouwen
If you are familiar with my writing, it will not come as a surprise to read that I am once again quoting Henri Nouwen. I am moved by his pastoral theology and ministry, and his work on the “wounded healer” which lends quite perfectly to this daily series on healing.
His question, “who can take away suffering without entering it,” is a powerful one, isn’t it? Like the word compassion (to suffer with), we can begin to shift our understanding of suffering as a communal, shared human experience.
We have to look at our own wounds, and explore how our actions are born in this painful place. How many have to suffer because of these internal wounds? How might we embrace them, reveal them, and heal them as a model for others.
We are also invited to see the stranger with the same admiration we see our cherished loved ones. Can we see their wounds, and if so, what does that then mean for us?
Can we truly see the dignity in those who hurt us, even if their actions make it unclear if they have a beating heart.
Consider these words from the Acts of the Apostles:
“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of their killing him.” (Acts 7:59-60, 8:1)
Stephen, somehow, understood the pain of his oppressors. How else could he ask God to forgive them with his final words and breath. Saul, who becomes Paul, has his conversion later, but you have to wonder how this act of love from the wounded Stephen helped heal Paul in his life, preparing him for what was to come.
As spiritual people, we must advocate for justice, and tirelessly work and fight for equality in all of our systems. We must seek a new way of living that is not just self-serving, but lifts up and protecting those who are stoned in our society.
As people of peace and people of God’s love, we must also seek to heal:
We all enter the vulnerable place of suffering from a variety of broken roads. If we can begin to understand how others are suffering, from those we fear to those we hate, and if we can embrace our own wounds as gift, we will move a step closer to recreating our world that does not seek to wound, but seeks to heal.