One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen.
The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart. Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said "Why, your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine."
The crowd and the young man looked at the old man's heart. It was beating strongly, but it was full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn't fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.
The people stared, how can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought?
The young man looked at the old man's heart and saw its state and laughed.
"You must be joking," he said. "Compare your heart with mine. Mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears."
"Yes," said the old man, "yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love - I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared."
"Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn't returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges
giving love, is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?"
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man's heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.
The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man's heart flowed into his.
I love driving to events and occasions with a passenger at my side. Now there is of course the joy of travelling with another, but it is more than that. In many ways some of my most rewarding ministry takes place in this time and place. What I love the most is that as I drive I listen. It is a time that is primarily when my ears do most of the work. I don’t just mean these two lugs at either side of my head, but the inner ear, the ear of my heart. It is a time for deep attentive listening, and I’ve noticed that people sometimes open up, particularly about their woundedness in this time and space. I think it has something to do with the physical proximity as we are close but not face to face and somehow people find it easier to open a wound as they open the mouths of their hearts and I open the ears of mine.
Now I know it is not my task to heal other people’s wounds that is no one’s task. I cannot heal anyone or anything, I don’t even think I can heal myself, not completely at least. Yes, the wounds can be tended to, the emotional bleed can be stopped and the pain relieved but the scars remain and the past cannot be wiped away. I don’t believe they should be, our scars are marks of a life fully lived. They must not be hidden away they are a part of our lives. In fact, these scars can become our greatest assets as they help us to walk side by side with others, showing them that they are not alone in their suffering and that whatever they are going through that they can survive and grow; that love can rise again from that suffering and that meaning can emerge as something beautiful grows from that pain. In many ways my ministry is exactly this. It grew from my greatest sorrow and suffering. It has not completely healed what happened, it does not take away the pain. If I could change it I would, every second of my life I would, but I can’t. All I can do is create something beautiful from it. I can walk with others in their suffering and joy. I can live with courage. I can live from the heart. I can live with my wounded heart cracked open, undefended and in so doing I can know love; In so doing I can live in such a way that my life will prove worth dying for, by the love I leave behind, to paraphrase good old Forrest Church.
I was thinking of the journey that is life as I was driving a friend I have known for 20 years the other day. They have suffered much in their life. They were widowed over 40 years ago and have difficult relations with their sons. They are not the easiest company, as they live alone and are physically isolated due to health problems. They only leave the house if someone picks them up. I do what I can and journey with them from time to time. As I sat and listened to my friend I thought of the number of times I have taken this journey, someone talking and me listening over the years.
Rarely in life do we journey completely alone. We journey in the company of others. Some are there at the beginning and remain to the very end, some are there at the beginning but do not stay until the end, some come and join with us for a while but do not remain. Some are with us later in life and then journey on without us, when we are gone. We never journey alone, we always journey with others, although sometimes it doesn’t feel this way.
Now as they say life isn’t about the destination, but the journey itself. In many ways I’m not even sure it’s even about the journey itself, well not wholly, it’s more about who you journey with. We do not sail this ship alone.
Those we meet along the way have wounds in their hearts and souls, no one has the perfect heart. The most beautiful, as the story “A piece of my heart” illustrates, will have its jagged edges, it will not be smooth and the pieces will not fit together neatly. We are all wounded to some degree or other. Those wounds can be transformed into something beautiful, we can accompany others in their suffering. We can give them a little piece of our hearts and we can receive a piece of theirs. The most beautiful hearts carry their scars. If we live in love we can bring some healing, we can become wounded healers. It is our wounds that put us in a place where we can be of service to one another. We are all wounded to some degree we all have cracks within us. Nobody is perfect, complete, and who would want to be. In fact it is our wounds and imperfections that put us into a better position to help others come to terms with who they are. It is this that breeds empathy and understanding. Who amongst us is not wounded in some way? Who amongst us does not bear the scars of life? It is our very wounds and the scars formed from them that makes us better able to help others heal from their own wounds.
Some say that “Time heals all wounds. I have not found this to always be true, it depends on many others things. I heard someone say this to another recently. They didn’t know what to do and so they came out with this platitude. Martin Luther King suggested that “Time is morally neutral.” Things do not get better or worse in time alone. This applies to the wider society that we live in, which always needs healing and it is also true for our own heart and souls. Hearts do not get better or worse by themselves. Wounds do not heal simply with the passing of time. At least not for all wounds. Sometimes wounds fester as time passes by. We get better, we heal, if we are loved into healing. By being lovingly supported we can tap into that love that over time brings healing to the wounds and then meaning can emerge if as we heal we accompany others in their suffering. We become wounded healers ourselves. Time has a role to play, but time alone does not heal. I have accompanied many people who have touched me deeply by their capacity to become “wounded healers”, their suffering has made them better able to offer understanding and compassion to others and not in spite of their suffering, but because of it.
The ancient Greeks understood the power of the “Wounded Healer”. Ancient Greek mythology tells the story of Chiron, who was a wise and benevolent centaur and a master of healing.
During one of his adventures Heracles visited the cave of Chiron. He had been invited to a gathering there. Now as we all know it is impolite to attend a party without bringing something for other guests and so Heracles brought along a flask of strong wine. Now the smell of the wine attracted many of the other centaurs who began to fight over it, nothing much has changed over the centuries, during the melee Chiron was accidently wounded on the knee by an arrow shot by Heracles. This was no ordinary arrow, it was poison tipped. This was no ordinary poison either it had come from the Hydra a monster with many heads that was virtually impossible to slay. Now while Chiron could show Heracles how to heal the wound caused by the arrows tip, he could not treat the Hydra’s poison. As he was immortal it could not kill him but neither could he fully recover. He would have to live on into eternity with his wounded knee. Chiron the greatest of healers could show others how to heal, but he could never fully recover from this wound. His wound would always show. He walked on into eternity limping. Chiron is the archetype of the wounded healer.
“The Wounded Healer” was one of the most important archetypes identified by Carl Jung. For him the image of Chiron overcoming the pain of his own wounds by becoming the compassionate teacher of healing was a powerful example. The wounded healer is someone who has gone through great suffering and learnt from the experience. Through transcending their own suffering they are drawn towards the path of service leading them to help others. This process strips away the selfish ego-based feeling of being alone and isolated in their own suffering and woundedness. Instead through seeing the wound through different eyes they can see this suffering in others and they can therefore lead others to find ways to overcome their own suffering. Their wounds may never fully heal, as Chiron’s didn’t, but they can help heal the wider ailments of our shared life.
In his book “The Wounded Healer”, Henri Nouwen envisioned the religious community as a safe haven where people could be open and honest about their own woundedness, their suffering and loneliness, a safe haven where through recognising ones pain healing and recovery could begin. Nouwen wrote that people today are “Semitic nomads…(who) live in a desert with many lonely travellers who are looking for a moment of peace, for a fresh drink and for a sign of encouragement so that they can continue their mysterious search for freedom.”
This speaks to me, one of the reason I became a part of a Unitarian community was for this very reason. Spirituality on an individual level is fine, but it only really comes alive in community as we search for healing and understanding together. Everyone is wounded in one way or another and everyone is looking for healing and understanding at one level or another, even if they are not entirely sure what from. We are all looking for love, understanding, acceptance and meaning. We are the religious animal, to deny this is to deny an important aspect of our shared humanity. None of us though are the experts, at least not in our tradition, which is why we need one another. As the Buddhist Pema Chodron wrote in “The Places that Scare You”
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
So how do we begin to heal, to live whole lives? Well it begins by knowing and naming our own pain. our own darkness. and to not be afraid to show our scars. I always remember the scene from “Jaws” when the great white shark hunters are going out to face the man killer and they begin to drink and sing sea shanties and of course show one another their scars. The scars are marks of experience of having lived the lives of shark hunters.
Now I know that this is a very macho setting but I think there is something in it for everyone. Our scars, our wounds, are symbols of the lives we have lived and we ought not to be afraid to show them. Not is some form of vainglory but as symbol of our shared humanity. To show we have lived and found a degree of healing from our wounds, although no one escapes scar free. By understanding our own woundedness and not hiding our scars we can better serve one another and walk side by side with each other in our shared troubles. It is our very imperfectness that best fits us for the task of journeying together in the fellowship of love.
Henri Nouwen wrote “We do not know where we will be two, ten or twenty years from now. What we can know, however, is that human beings suffer and that a sharing of suffering can make us move forward.”
By sharing our suffering we can begin to move forward and it is this that can begin to bring about the healing and wholeness that we are all searching for, we are hoping for. This can grow from within each of us as we commune together, work together and do the works of compassion that our wounded world needs. We can begin it today, it begins in our own hearts. We are all “The wounded Healers.”
We can share pieces of imperfect beautiful hearts; sharing our perfectly imperfect wounded hearts.
I offer you a piece of my heart, treasure it and I will gratefully receive a piece of yours.
So let us journey together, side by side, let us tend to one another’s wounds let us become together, the wounded healers.
Below isa video devotion based on the material in this "blogpost"