Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The wounding healer?

As part of our assessment process, we trainee ministers were recently asked to read and reflect on Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer.  I'd read it a long time back when I was doing practical theology and we'd moved onto the pastoral care module - in 2nd yr of the B.D.  Even before then, I'd come across it via my former job, as I used to stock it - and it sold by the bucket-load.

I thought for a long time that I had some real issues with Nouwen... I realised via this exercise, however, that the issues were centred more around some of his 'followers'.
Something that I'd always found bizarre and frustrating was the Nouwen 'devotee'.  It seemed to me that a small group of Nouwen 'devotees' seemed to take what Nouwen was saying and completely misappropriate its meaning... almost as a permission for them to not only be aware of their 'woundedness' but to completely transgress boundaries and bleed all over the place, leaving a rather messy trail of destruction after them.  It's why I've been twitchy for years about Nouwen and this particular model of ministry.

As I wrote the piece on Nouwen's model, I realised I was not only twitchy, I was still, to some extent, a bit angry from having observed folk misusing the model, taking it and working through their own stuff by ostensibly 'helping' others.  My sense was that it encouraged self-absorbed, self-indulgent, navel-gazing which did not in any way help the person move on to a space of healing and freedom.  It seemed, as practised by those I observed, rather to encourage folk to remain in a cycle of dependancy or worse, to continue further into a downward almost narcissistic spiral.  And seemed to be the very antithesis of what Nouwen was actually saying.  I've never personally seen this model used well - in my limited experience - and wondered if others who happen upon this blog might have...?  All comments on this model of ministry welcome - good, bad or ugly!

1 comment:

Danny said...

I agree that we are all wounded in some way, but I don't think it is helpful to others to put our wounds 'out there'. The value of woundedness is in helping us to empathise with another person, to offer support and understanding. But the temptation can also be to project our pain, our wounds, onto another person inappropriately.

I need to keep myself just a little detached to survive as a minister. I am open and friendly but I have clear boundaries in my relationships with my parishoners. And I am very careful who I confide in and what I share. Could be trust issues or just the result of being brought up in Edinburgh :)

On another note I am a commissioner for the Assembly this year (oh joy) so we should try and meet up for that oft mentioned coffee.