Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Wounded Healer and The Wounded Storyteller

In recent days I have enjoyed reading two parallel books: “The Wounded Story Teller”, by Arthur Frank and “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen. Both books are excellent reading for a hospice Chaplain. There are two quotes, one from each book that I find instructive to my own life and ministry. The first is from “The Wounded Healer”. "Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.” A major wound in my life occurred when I was 10. It was a cataclysmic event… my father died. He was but 46 years old. His death changed my world, the world of my Mother, and my sisters. 1964 was part of the June Cleaver era. Mom tended house and the kids. Dad went off to work. From May 24, 1964, until June (not sure what day) 1984 I lived in emotional and spiritual agony never having mourned his death. You see, my grief counsel was simple: “Brave boys don’t cry.” “You are now the man of the house.” As a brave boy, I didn’t cry, but I had no idea how to be the man of the house. This brave boy graduated high school, went off to college, dealt with gut-wrenching pain as he observed his dorm friends and their Dads moving in to their rooms. They joked and laughed. I sighed and walked away. At age 30, my emotions and spirit were both spent. I had to get help. That help came from a counselor/friend, David. He and I went to lunch and I explained to him my pain. His guidance to me was to go back to my office, cancel all appointments, take no calls, and spend my time writing a letter to my father. After that, I was to read it out loud. Awkward turned into passion as I began, went in depth with my feelings and ended the letter. As I read it out loud, the dam burst and for the first time I wept over the death of my father. That wound and its healing form the basis of my commitment to hospice care. My wound has been a source of healing, not just for me, but for those I serve. It is as if the compassion seeps through my body language and verbal language in pastoral encounters. Wanting to communicate the paradox of how we minister to others through our brokenness, he took a cardboard box and asked his students to “beat it up”. They punctured holes in the box, kicked it around and tore pieces off of it. Then he placed the box on the table in front of them all. Underneath the box was a light. He dimmed the house lights, and then turned on the light inside of the box. He didn’t need to say any more. They all understood. The light of Jesus shines clearly through our broken places. The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith (page 163) Arthur Frank approaches life from a very different perspective, but one that the religious/spiritual person can relate to and grasp. In his Preface, he comments: “The figure of the wounded storyteller is ancient: Tiresias, the seer, who reveals to Oedipus the true story of whose son he really is, has been blinded by the gods. His wound gives him narrative power. The wound that the Biblical patriarch Jacob suffers to his hip while wrestling with the Angel is part of the story he tells of that event and it is the price of his story. As Jacob tells his story to those he returns to—and who else could have told it?—his wound is evidence of his story’s truth.” My experience as a Chaplain affirms that there is healing in storytelling. How many times have I sat silent, but intent on listening to the story of the patient, and at the close of the visit, that patient thank me for all the “help” I provided that day. I said little to nothing, but heard that patient tell his or her story. It was their story that brought the “help”. There is something special about articulating one’s story…painful story, reminiscence story, reconstructed story, illness story, or a story that defies being categorized. It is my hope that these two books will bless and inform your chaplaincy.

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