In-Sight: Wounded Healers

In 1972, Henri Nouwen wrote, ‘The Wounded Healer.’ [1]  I read it with benefit that same year, and even used it for a time in my course, “The Spiritual Life of the Minister.”  But back then, I read it from afar; I had not been wounded very much.

Now, forty six years later, I still have not suffered nearly as much as many people have, but I have been wounded enough to read his book inside the circle of experience, not outside of it.  I read it from a different vantage point.

Nouwen wrote ‘The Wounded Healer’ for clergy, saying that “the minister is called to recognize the sufferings of his time in his own heart and make that recognition the starting point of his service.” [2]  I now read these words, and many others in the book, from a different angle, and Nouwen’s book is more meaningful to me than it has ever been.

The difference between my read in 1972 and now is this: we normally think of a wound as something inflicted upon us–and it is surely that; there’s no getting around that, no way to sugarcoat the pain of an inflicted wound.
  But….in the long run, a wound is not the entry point of pain, it is the exit point of grace.  And that’s the difference between how I read the book back then and how I read it now.

Of course, Nouwen wrote ahead of my experience, out of his own woundedness.  I have had to live into his words.  But having done so (to an extent), I realize that our wounds are not so much affronts as they are offerings.  They are the places where empathy is born, compassion is expressed, and community is formed–most always with a new group of people we were not connected with before we were wounded.

Wounds are transformed by grace and become invitations to love.  If we do not keep our wounds hidden (as if they were not there) and protected (by not being vulnerable), they become meeting places with others who find acceptance and hope through our woundedness. It is paradox, but it is also powerful.  It is the power of being a wounded healer.

And as Nouwen notes near the end of his book, wounds become “anchor places for our lives [where] we can be free to let others enter the space created for them [by the wound] and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear.” [3]

Oh, yes!

[1] Henri Nouwen, ‘The Wounded Healer’ (Doubleday, 1972).
[2] ‘The Wounded Healer,’ xiv.
[3] ‘The Wounded Healer,’ 93.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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