- Written by Mark Diller Harder Mark Diller Harder
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Healing a Broken World
Reconciling with Our Self
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-18
Almost every time I am a part of a new group of people in a workshop, course, gathering or event, there is some sort of ‘get to know you’ exercise. I am sure many of you have done this. You typically go around the circle, share your name, where you are from, what you do for a living or how you spend your time, and then there is some sort of question to get to know you better – What is your favourite colour? Your favourite ice cream flavour, what animal would you be, or maybe it gets a bit deeper sometimes – what would be your dream vacation? What have you always wished you could accomplish? Who is your personal hero? Many years ago, I heard of a different kind of question that grabbed my attention and has always stayed with me. I can’t remember any more who shared it, or what kind of setting or retreat they were a part of. It was the kind of question that could only be used in a group that already assumed a certain level of trust and confidentiality, and a kind of question that set expectations for a deep level of personal sharing to follow. The question was: ‘share about the physical scars on your body.’ Wow. Talk about going deep quickly. It would need to be in a setting that felt safe, where people could pass if they were not comfortable, and I suspect it was in a setting with everyone of the same gender.
When I heard about this question, it made me think about how I would answer it, and what it raised for me. I had a scar very early in life. By 6 weeks of age, I had been throwing up everything I took in, and they finally discovered I had pyloric stinosis, the slow closing of the valve between the stomach and the small intestine. The first doctors did not diagnose this and sent me home, and it was only through the persistence of an aunt and her research with a Dr. Spock book that I had emergency surgery and a scar that has kept growing in proportion with my size. This was a condition I was simply born with, nothing I could do about it, but it has left a lasting scar. Growing up, I was not always the most coordinated kid, resulting in many mishaps, and my share of small self-inflicted stitches - finger, leg, head – the most embarrassing being the time at a swimming pool when I tried to copy the big kids by jumping into the pool after a half twist and not quite making it in all the way, my chin hitting the edge and needing three stitches. I had one scar caused by someone else – by my good friend the year I spent in Paraguay, who accidently shot my leg with a little piece of mango from a bebbie gun. I have also shared about my left leg that occasionally gets infected, ever since playing soccer in college - not really anyone’s fault, but a combination of a bunch of circumstantial things coming together, yet the one sometimes active scar I worry about the most. I know some people carry much more serious physical scars on their bodies. For many of us, our physical scars come with stories and various layers of emotion and meaning. Body, mind and spirit can be so connected.
These physical scars are the scars we can see and touch and feel. But we all carry other scars – emotional, psychological, mental and spiritual. These are not so easy to see or touch, and yet they shape us deeply, and sometimes keep us trapped or stuck in a certain place. These kinds of scars can come from our childhood, growing up experiences, from our parents, from friends and various relationships we have had with people, from times of struggle and growth, from times of doubt or regret, from times of disappointments and failures or conflicts, from times of trauma. We are hearing more and more about PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the many circumstances that can cause this and its lasting effects. Like our physical scars, these scars may feel like they have always been there, from birth or early on, or that they were self-inflected, a part of our own poor choices, that they come out of particular circumstances and stories that are not our fault, that they can be traced back to what others have done to us – how we have been offended and hurt, or that that they are simply circumstantial – part of living in this world at this particular time and place and a part of being human. Sometimes we don’t know their origins, and maybe that doesn’t even matter so much. We simply recognize that to various degrees, we are all scarred, wounded, hurt, and carrying emotional or spiritual ‘baggage.’ This has the potential to affect how we feel about ourselves, our overall health and mental health, and our self–esteem. At times, it can be debilitating, or make us less than what we could be.
Right now we are in a worship series on ‘Healing a Broken World,’ on naming the places where we need reconciliation – with First Nations and Muslim neighbours, with Family, with Creation, with God. But I wonder if for any of these many forms of reconciliation to happen, it needs to start with reconciliation with yourself. We need reconciliation with our own histories, our scars and wounds, with the baggage we each carry. It is only after there has been some degree of self-discovery and healing that we can begin the journey of reconciliation with others. It is as we begin to love ourselves, that we can love others.
Rick Cober Bauman shared last week about our relationship with First Nations Peoples. One of the gifts I have received from so many First Nations folks, has been their honesty with their own painful stories, and their claiming of now being on a healing journey. I love that language. To be on a healing journey is to recognize first that you need healing, to name that it is journey that will take time, but that it is possible and we take that journey in hope. There can be healing. Each of us has the particular healing journey that comes out of our own life experiences and woundedness. Scott shared about his Roman Catholic upbringing and what he has been letting go of. Protestants have had their own versions, often around very individual guilt. I suspect Mennonites have their versions too, with emphasis on such high ethical standards and controlled and expected behaviours. We so easily fall short of our own ideals about ourselves. As pastors, we have heard many youth and young adults express that they are not ready for baptism, because they do not feel good enough, their behaviours do not measure up to some sort of imagined standard they and we have put upon them. We all need healing, we all need some letting go.
This past February, at the annual MCEC School for Ministers at Conrad Grebel, we heard from author and pastor Mandy Smith, on the topic of ‘Ministry on a Human Scale.’ I have mentioned her before and she was just featured in the current Canadian Mennonite. (http://www.canadianmennonite.org/stories/ministry-human-scale) She simply acknowledged how human and vulnerable and weak we are as pastors and persons. Our temptation is to cover up our weaknesses, our wounds, our scars – to avoid pain as much as possible. There are lots of ways we do this – working harder, various vices, being cynical, becoming numb to our world or our families, even sometimes over-caring – becoming too involved. She had us do this interesting exercise. On a flipchart, she simply wrote the words ‘I am too... blank.’ How would you answer that? From that group of pastors, answers included: ‘I am too quiet, too talkative, too impulsive, too childlike, too bossy, too self-conscious, too Mennonite, too apologetic, too people-pleasing, too scared, too wounded.... and the lists could go on. She put up a second flipchart sentence. ‘I’m not ____ blank enough.’ ‘I’m not... experienced enough, young enough, talented enough, outgoing enough, quiet enough, people person enough, and so on. We laughed at how the answer for one person was often the exact opposite of another. All of our answers started to sound a bit ridiculous. We realized how much we put these things onto ourselves. I am too.... whatever.... I am not... whatever... enough. How do we get out of these patterns of self-talk?
For Mandy Smith, a key verse is 2 Corinthians 12:9 – ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ We begin to heal when we recognize it is okay to be human, that’s who we are, but that God works through us precisely in our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We are that combination of all of our quirks and woundedness and shortcomings - and that is a good and beautiful thing. She talked about various spiritual practices – prayer, patience, hospitality, generosity, and practicing and taking time for Sabbath - where we get used to being with God, and where we in a sense practice our own death – that the world can get along without us. The Lord delights in us even when we are not accomplishing anything. It is part of being released from having to have it all together. More than anything, she grounded our healing in seeing ourselves as God sees us, as created in the very image of God, as beloved children of God. Mandy asked provocatively, ‘If you really believed God loved you, how would you act?’
Throughout the Scriptures we are told again and again that God loves us and we are precious in God’s sight – that God loves us not for our accomplishments or for what we do or fail to do, but simply because we are each a child of God. One of the most poetic and moving scriptures is the one we read together from Psalm 139. What difference does it make on our own journeys towards reconciliation with self, if we truly believe that God formed our inward parts and knit us together in our mother’s womb - that we are fearfully and wonderfully? That God beheld our unformed substance as we were intricately woven in the depths of the earth. We were created in God’s image! That is the essence of who we truly are! That is how God sees us. Psalm 139 also speaks of that depth of knowledge of our lives now. God has searched and known us, is acquainted with all of our ways. We cannot flee from God’s presence. God knows all of our scars and wounds, and knows our healing journeys. God promises that through it all, ‘I am still with you.’ As Gloria shared with the children – ‘You are wonderfully made. God loves you and you are precious in God’s sight.’
Back to our physical scars. When you have a cut or incision, good healing needs to happen from the inside out. If it is really deep, you even pack a wound with gauze so that it does not heal over on the outside without first healing from the inside, even if that can take a long time. It heals by layers, starting on the inside. Once it finally heals, you are left with a scar, and yet that part of the skin is stronger than it originally was. We often hide these scars from others or feel embarrassed by then, and yet they are a sign of healing and a sign of strength. So too our emotional and spiritual wounds. When covered up from the outside, they can fester and grow – like getting infected. It is when we are willing to start healing from the inside, layer by layer, often over a long time span, that true healing happens. For some that healing may need to draw upon outside resources – a counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, group work , pastor, spiritual director, the resources of the church, and so on. The journey can be long. Yes, we are left with ongoing scars, but we are often stronger and more resilient. This is what the healing journey looks like, what reconciliation with self looks like.
The worship planners for this whole reconciliation series have used the image up front of this large beautiful piece of broken and restored pottery. (Project on Screen – Kintsugi slide 1) You can see it up on the screen a little larger and clearer. There is a pottery bowl that has been broken in several places but those breaks have been repaired and painted over with gold lines. This is to imitate the Japanese art of ‘Kintsugi’ which is the art of repairing and restoring broken pottery with gold, behind which is the philosophy that treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object that enhances rather than diminishes its beauty. (Kintsugi slide 2) You can see some slides here of some of the amazing and gorgeous pottery in this tradition. There is no attempt made to hide the damage. (Kintsugi slide 3) Rather you actually highlight the breaks, in a sense, the scars, and create beauty from brokenness. Isn’t that a wonderful image of Reconciliation with Self, of honouring the healing we do go through, and the scars that come from it. We are made more beautiful, more resilient, more aware and convinced of God’s deep love for us. (Kintsugi slide 4)
Part of being human is being hurt and wounded. We will continue to hurt each other and ourselves. We will find ourselves in situations beyond what it feels like we can handle. We will be left with wounds and scars. We will look at our own self in a negative light, not feeling like we measure up. But a part of being human is also healing. (Kintsugi slide 5) There is healing with others, with our neighbours, with those close to us, with those who have hurt us, and even with our enemies. But at its root, and before any of the rest can happen, there is healing with yourself. It is not always an easy journey, but it is a journey God takes with us. Beauty from brokenness, Self worth from unworthiness, Hope out of despair, and knowing deeply and fully that you are Beloved. (Kintsugi slide 6 – and remain up until end of Hymn of Response) ‘You are wonderfully made. God loves you and you are precious in God’s sight.’ Amen.