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The Sacred Wound

Friday, October 16, 2015

Jung: Week 2

The Sacred Wound
Friday, October 16, 2015

Only the wounded physician heals. —C. G. Jung [1]

When life is hard, we are primed to learn something absolutely central. I call it God’s special hiding place. The huge surprise of the Christian revelation is that the place of the wound is the place of the greatest gift. Our code phrase for this whole process is “cross and resurrection,” revealing that our very wounds can become sacred wounds, if we let them.

No surprise that an unjustly wounded man became the central transformative symbol of Christianity. Once “the killing of God” becomes the very “redemption of the world,” the pathway was revealed. Forevermore the very worst things have the power to become the very best things. Henceforth, nothing can be a permanent dead end; everything is capable of new shape and meaning. There is no advantage to playing the victim, and we are forever warned against victimizing others. Henceforth, we are indeed saved by gazing upon the wounded one—and loving there our own woundedness and everybody else’s wounds too (John 3:14, 12:32, 19:37). One’s world is henceforth grounded in mutual vulnerability instead of any need to have power over one another.

This is the core meaning of the Christian doctrine of Trinity—the inner shape of God is mutual deference and honoring among three, not self-assertion or autonomy by one. [2] God is “an event of communion” and perfect vulnerability, not an old man sitting on a throne. All creation is a replication of that foundational pattern. When Pope Francis first bowed to receive the blessing of the people instead of just giving his own blessing, he was bodily illustrating this wondrous divine revelation, which the church itself has seldom understood.

I usually find that most great people still carry a significant personality flaw. It is fairly predictable. St. Paul himself, clearly flawed, humbly recognized that God had given him a “thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet me” (2 Corinthians 12:7), which he says was necessary “to keep me from getting too proud.” In most wise people I know, their authority and wisdom comes from the struggle with their wound or some essential conflict. Material moves from the unconscious to the conscious through conflict and struggle, hardly ever through perfect coherence or ideal performance. The Jungian aphorism holds true: “The greater light you have, the greater shadow you cast.” The search for the supposedly perfect is very often the enemy of the truly good. [3] All “important” people must daily recognize their own imperfection and sin or they become dangerous to themselves and others.

All scapegoating, the process of both denying and projecting our fears and hates elsewhere, only perpetuates suffering. The scapegoat mechanism is hidden in the unconscious; it proceeds from our unrecognized but real need to project our anxiety elsewhere. [4] Unfortunately, there is no elsewhere in the spiritual world. Either you transform pain within yourself or it is always an outflowing wound. You are transformed when you can refuse to project your anxieties elsewhere, and learn to hold and forgive them within yourself, which can only be done by the grace of God—and which grace is always given.

Jesus didn’t project the problem on to any other group, race, or religion; he held it and suffered it and thus transformed it into medicine for the world. He neither played the victim nor created victims, which is the modus operandi of much of the world. Jesus revealed the redemptive pattern, the “third way,” or what we call the Paschal Mystery. The significance of Jesus’ wounded body is his deliberate and conscious holding of the pain of the world and refusing to send it elsewhere. Jesus’ wounds were not necessary to convince God that we were loveable (atonement theory); his wounds are to convince us of the path and the price of transformation.

Jesus agrees to be the Universal Wounded One and thus to reveal God’s willingness to share in our plight. Christians are the strange believers in a wounded healer, even though they seldom seem to appreciate the implications of this for themselves. If I were to name the Christian religion, I would probably call it “The Way of the Wound.” Surprise of surprises, Christianity is saying that we come to God not by doing it right (which teaches you very little), but invariably by doing it wrong and responding to our failures and suffering with openness and awareness.

Jesus’ wounded body is an icon for what we are all doing to one another and to the world.

Jesus’ resurrected body is an icon of God’s promise, response, and victory over these crucifixions.

The two images contain the whole transformative message of the Gospel. [5]

Gateway to Silence:
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” —C. G. Jung

[1] C. G. Jung, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe, translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Vintage Books: 1989), 134.
[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 46.
[3] Ibid., 82.
[4] Rene Girard has unpacked the momentous implications of scapegoating for human culture and for understanding the core meaning of Jesus on the cross. Try The Girard Reader, edited by James Williams (Crossroad: 1996, 69ff). Rene Girard is a monumental thinker, and I predict that one day his name will be broadly known and appreciated.
[5] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 76-78.

Image credit: Charing Cross Bridge (detail), 1903, by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, USA.
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