Wounded Healers — Center for Action and Contemplation

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

Wounded Healers

Suffering: Week 2

Wounded Healers
Friday, October 26, 2018

Only people who have suffered in some way can usually save anybody else—exactly as the Twelve-Step program illustrates. They alone have the space and the capacity for the other. Deep communion and compassion are formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure. Jesus told Peter, “You must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can turn and help the brothers” (see Luke 22:31-32). In general, you can lead people on the spiritual journey as far as you have gone. Transformed people transform people. When you can be healed yourself and not just talk about healing, you are, as Henri Nouwen said, a “wounded healer”—which is probably the only kind of healer!

James Finley shares insights drawn from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work with the dying:

Those who come to acceptance in death don’t look up at you from their deathbeds to say how happy they are in the ways we typically speak of happiness. For those who come to acceptance in death pass beyond the dualism of happiness and sadness as emotional states that depend on conditions that are conducive to happiness. Those who come to acceptance in death have about them a certain transparent childlike quality, an uncanny peace. It’s a peace not of this world. For in accepting their seemingly unacceptable situation, they are transformed in ways that leave us feeling strangely touched and privileged to be in their presence. Being in their presence can open up in us a deep sense of how invincibly precious we are in the midst of our fragility.

This experience of being with those who have come to an acceptance in death can help us renew our ongoing efforts to learn from God how to die to the last traces of clinging to anything less or other than God’s sustaining love. For insofar as we learn from God how to die to all that is less than or other than God’s love as our sole security and identity, it just might be possible that when the moment of our death finally comes, nothing will happen. For in some deep, unexplainable way we will have already crossed over into the deathless love of God. [1]

We can see Etty Hillesum’s work to find this kind of acceptance in letters she wrote from the Westerbork transit camp:

This is something people refuse to admit to themselves: at a given point you can no longer do, but can only be and accept. [2]

Such peace allowed Hillesum to serve and love her fellow humans, even when, as she wrote, they “don’t give you much occasion to love them.” She discovered “there is no causal connection between people’s behavior and the love you feel for them. Love for one’s fellow man is like an elemental glow that sustains you.” [3]

Finally, on a card that she threw out of the train on her way to Auschwitz, Etty wrote:

In the end, the departure came without warning. On sudden special orders from The Hague. We left the camp singing, Father and Mother firmly and calmly, Mischa, too. We shall be traveling for three days. Thank you for all your kindness and care. [4]

Hard to believe these could be her last written words. Where does such generosity of spirit come from? From God, only from an Infinite God and an Infinite Source of Love.

[1] James Finley, Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere, disc 5 (Sounds True: 2004), CD.

[2] Etty Hillesum, Letter (July 10, 1943). See An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 19411943 and Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 314.

[3] Hillesum, Letter (August 8, 1943). Ibid., 323.

[4] Hillesum, Postcard (September 7, 1943). Ibid., 360.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 123.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr
Join Our Email Community

Stay up to date on the latest news and happenings from Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation.

HTML spacer