Healing, part 1

Healing is our theme for May. The May issue of On the Journey: Healing is out now. Please give that a read. You’ll have a chance to explore it with your Journey Group later this month.

Healing. Well, you may ask, what is the wound? Let’s start today with an obvious, literal physical injury. If you happen not to have one right now, then let me ask you to remember one, for a minute. A literal, physical wound. A scraped knee, perhaps – or a broken bone. And it got better. The cells of your body knew what to do. You probably helped them in their work: you washed the scrape so as to give your cells an easier time of it as they went about the work of repair. Or you went to a doctor to have the bone set properly, and appropriately immobilized, so the bone cells could grow back together in peace. You helped out, and your body took it from there. You got the award for actor in a supporting role – your body takes the award for leading actor.

And the show was a hit with critics and audiences alike. Healing happened. It was the sequel to “The Wounding,” which had opened to much more mixed reviews. The critics had appreciated its dramatic tension, but audiences didn’t like “The Wounding.” Then there were more sequels: a continuous flow of sequels. Like a series perpetually renewed, the healing never stops.

At first, you thought that what you were healing from was simply some mishap that shouldn’t have happened, but it did, and you just wanted to get back to – to what? Back to “normal”? Turns out normal isn’t what you’re here for.

Some people say God has a plan for you. I might go with that as a kind of metaphor. Some people say you make your own meaning and plan. But that could only be another metaphor – maybe, actually, the same metaphor. If it’s your own idea, OK, but where did it come from? You didn’t have the idea before you had it. Even a unique idea is composed of parts that came from somewhere and fit themselves together in a unique way.

Where your purpose came from is a mystery – as mysterious as where the universe came from, where the big bang came from. You can name that mystery God if you like, and then you have a name for it. You haven’t solved it, or clarified it, or reduced its mysteriousness in any way. You’ve only named it – though with that particular name you’ve associated the purpose of your existence with the creative force of the universe itself, with creativity. And that might be helpful. Wherever your purpose came from, I’m pretty sure you do have one. And getting back to normal isn’t it.

You are here to love, to give what you are, and to grow. Like all living things – like amoebas, grass, salamanders, cats, fungus, daffodils, octopuses, wood thrushes, slime mold, larch trees, beagles, yellow-naped Amazon parrots – like all that is alive -- you and I are here to grow – to change, to transform. For humans and the more social animals, at least, growth doesn’t happen without wounding. We don’t grow into wisdom without some pain.

As Naomi Shihab Nye's beautiful poem, "Kindness," says:
“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”
There’s a piece in your Journey Group materials this month by Thomas Egnew from a study he did interviewing doctors about what they learned about healing from their careers as healers. They spoke of wholeness – “making whole again,” or “becoming whole again” or “finding wholeness.” It’s not getting back to normal, but finding one’s personhood within a new normal.

Illness, one doctor said, “denies most conceptions of what it means to be yourself” – because “you can’t do the things you used to do.” You might or might not get better – healing doesn’t always mean being cured or fixed. It does mean finding wholeness in your situation.

The doctors also spoke of narrative – the patient’s story about themselves, about their disease. Healing involves a reinterpretation, a re-drafting of the life narrative. The narrative, most fundamentally, is about relationships: patient with other patients, with family, with medical providers.

Finding yourself, your wholeness, is always finding your place within a web of relationships. One doctor said, “to be whole is to be whole in the presence of others.” You are the author of your life narrative, but it takes a whole network of co-authors working it out with you, editing your drafts. Healing entails a narrative of healing.

Thus healing is a matter not simply of the body, but of the spirit – what one doctor described as the “ineffable quality that we have that propels us forward,” and another characterized as harmony that exists “when what you know, and what you say, and what you feel are in balance.” Healing isn’t “getting back to” something. Healing is transformation.

The healing cocoon doesn’t get you back to being the caterpillar you were, but makes you into a butterfly. And then makes the butterfly into the next thing, and then the next thing. One doctor said, “almost universally, illness awakened them to a meaning of what’s important in life.”

Disease and injury is a suffering, and the suffering is not simply the body’s pain, discomfort, dis-ease. Rather, the crux of the matter is no longer being the person you thought of yourself as – the forced re-writing of your narrative.As Egnew writes, “Not being the persons they have known themselves to be, they suffer.” Healing then, is the transcendence of that suffering. Not the end of suffering, but the transcending of it – the understanding of it within a new context of meaning, a new narrative, a new harmony, a new wholeness.

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