The Wounded Healer // Henri Nouwen.

In this deeply moving short, Henri Nouwen displays pastoral sensibility’s at its best. Wounds are real and painful but worthy of contemplative scrutiny. In fact, contemplative scrutiny exposes wounds — possibly deepens and intensifies them — but it also starts their healing: wounds are healed through knowing the wounds, feeling the wounds, and sharing the wounds. The sharpest felt-wound that plagues and terrorizes the modern person is loneliness. Profound loneliness leaves a chasm that begs its filling, so we seek “the one” solution: the one spouse, the one job, the one community, and so on. But Nouwen thinks this solution as a dead-end. Instead, Nouwen prescribes what seems at first counter-intuitive, and repulsive: treasure loneliness as a gift. Loneliness, perhaps more than any other dismay, forces us to consider something Beyond — it strangely stirs hope and yearning. Placing this brooding wound under contemplative scrutiny does not glory it — as if loneliness is greater than it is — but honors it as something worthy of care. To honor loneliness is, in my opinion, to identify it as it is, which is also to keep it in check — neither blowing it out of proportion nor diminishing it into nothingness. This crucial step opens the scrutinizer to be hospitable — a good host is a host who is comfortable in his or her own home. Indeed, the par excellence of a wounded healer is Jesus himself. To be hospitable with — not despite — our wounds is to model the Great Doctor and to embody the gospel:

Thus ministry can indeed 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.

— 102.

Nouwen is clear and precise. As it befits the title — The Wounded Healer — Nouwen structures each chapter with a diagnosis and a prescription. The four chapters are as follows, with each successive chapter being a smaller concentric circle inside the previous: society at large, current generation, archetypal patient, and archetypal minister/healer. Below is a short outline.

Society at large
diagnosis (3 symptoms): historical dislocation, fragmented ideology, and a search for new immortality
prescription (3 options): mystical way, revolutionary way, and Christian way

Current generation
diagnosis (3 symptoms): inward generation, generation without “fathers” (or authority figures), and convulsive generation
prescription (3 components): clear articulation of crisis, compassion, and contemplative critic

Archetypal patient
diagnosis (3 symptoms): impersonal milieu, fear of death, fear of life
prescription (3 components): personal concern, faith in the value of life, and hope

Archetypal healer
diagnosis: loneliness
prescription: hospitality with two components — concentration (contemplation) and community

If any of these sound appealing, then pick up the book and read.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s