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Henri J.M. Nouwen

The Wounded Healer, Henri J.M. Nouwen

Courtesy: Pandora

I did not have anything prepared to write yesterday, hence my lack of posts. In my nightly reading before bed, I came across a reading that strikes me in a certain way so I thought I’d share it with you.

I have been reading Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “The Wounded Healer” over the past few weeks. You read a little and let it sink in, and then read some more and repeat the process. Last night I read through the last chapter and it spoke to me.

Ministry comes in many forms, how we minister to people and on what level. The book is oriented towards the minister proper, but the themes and stories are universal in my opinion and can work in many an interaction model between any given people.

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The Wounded Healer, Henri J.M. Nouwen
Ministry in Contemporary Society

If ministry is meant to hold the promise of the messiah, then whatever we can learn of the Messiah’s coming will give us a deeper understanding of what is called for in ministry today.

How does our Liberator come? i found an old legend in the Talmud which may suggest to us the beginning of an answer:

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet
while he was standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai’s cave … He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”

Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting at the gate of the city.”

“How shall I know him?”

“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds.
The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and
then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and
binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be
needed: if so I must be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’ “

Hospitality and community

Ministers who have come to terms with their own loneliness and are at home in their own houses are hosts who offer hospitality to their guests. They give them a friendly space, where they may feel free to come and go, to be close and be distant, to rest and to play, to talk and to be silent, to eat and to fast. The paradox indeed is that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space, where the guests can find their own souls.

Why is this a healing ministry? it is healing because it takes away the false illusion that wholeness can be given by one to another. It is healing because it does not take away the loneliness and the pain of others, but invites them to recognize their loneliness on a level where it can be shared. Many people in this life suffer because they are anxiously searching for the man or woman, the event or encounter, which will take their loneliness away.

But when they enter a house with real hospitality they soon see that their own wounds must be understood, not as source of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to the calling sounds of those wounds…

… No minister can save anyone. We can only offer ourselves as guides for fearful people. Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely in this guidance that the first signs of hope become visible. This is so because a shared pain is no longer paralyzing, but mobilizing, when it is understood to be a way to liberation.

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.

Through this common search, hospitality becomes community. Hospitality becomes community as it creates a unity based upon the shared confession of our basic brokenness and upon a shared hope. This hope in turn leads us far beyond the boundaries of human togetherness to the One who calls all people away from the land of slavery to the land of freedom. It belongs to the central insight of the Judeo-Christian tradition – that it is the call of God that forms the people of God.

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I started this chapter with the story of Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi, who asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?” There is an important conclusion to this story. When Elijah had explained to him how he could find the Messiah sitting among the poor at the gates of the city, Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi went to the Messiah and said to him:

“Peace unto you, my master and teacher.”
The Messiah answered, “peace unto you, son of Levi.”
He asked, “When is the master coming?”
“Today,” he answered.
Rabbi Yoshua returned to Elijah, who asked,
“What did he tell you?”
“He indeed has deceived me, for he said ‘Today I am
coming’ and he has not come.”
Elijah said, “This is what he told you: ‘Today if you
would listen to his voice. ‘ “

Even when we know that we are called to be wounded healers, it is still very difficult to acknowledge that healing has to take place today, because we are living at a time when our wounds have become all too visible.

Our loneliness and isolation have become so much a part of our daily experience that we cry out for a Liberator who will take us away from our misery and bring us justice and peace.

To announce, however, that the Liberator is sitting among the poor and that the wounds are signs of hope and that today is the day of liberation, is a step very few can take. But this is exactly the announcement of the wounded healer: “The master is coming – not tomorrow, but today, not next year, but this year, not after our misery is passed, but in the middle of it, not in another place but right here, where we are standing.”

And with a challenging confrontation he says:

O that today you would listen to his voice!
Harden not your heart as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when they tried me, though they saw
my work. (Psalm 95:7)

If indeed we listen to the voice and believe that ministry is a sign of hope because it makes visible the first rays of light of the coming Messiah, we can make ourselves and others understand that we already carry in us the source of our own search.

Thus ministry can be a witness to the living truth that the wound, which causes us to suffer now, will be revealed to us later as the place where God intimated a new creation.

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This is who we are called to be …