How Do We Heal?

Every so often a member of my congregation or from another congregation would tell me they cannot bear to hear a certain song or a certain story or even specific words because they conjure up for them such painful memories in their past.   They have connected to these songs, stories, or specific words to those memories so tightly that their response is almost like the conditioning that Pavlov had created with connecting the sound of a bell with food. The next statement from these individuals is to please never use these songs, stories, or words again because the pain is just too unbearable.

So how do we offer healing to our congregants?  Do we do so by avoiding certain texts, certain songs, certain words or do we do so by offering these texts, songs, and words in a different context.  If we refuse to sing a song because it is painful for some of our members, then that is a pastoral issue that we need to address.  Yes, we need to understand their pain. Yes, we need to understand the source of their pain but to refuse to ever sing the song again is not healthy either; not for them and not for us.

Religious community is about transformation.  It is about healing.  It is about conversion. It is about transcendence. Why would we try to protect people from these processes? Why would we want to keep people in bondage to their wounded and traumatic past by avoiding words, songs, texts that are tangential to their experience and do not need to be paired with those experiences any longer?

We want to be sensitive.  We want to be a loving community where we respect each others dignity and worth.  We want to be a place where we do not inflict pain and hurt on each other.  So in deference to our dear companions painful experiences we choose to avoid those songs, texts, or even those words that might offend or bring to the surface their emotional pain.

But this is not how we heal.  We do not heal by avoidance.  We heal emotionally and spiritually by expanding the context of meaning.  We heal by salving the wound with love and acceptance in that new context.

In my younger days, I belonged to a charismatic prayer community that was known for lack of a better word its Holy Roller behavior.  Nothing would stir this up for us more than the song, “Now Let Us Sing.” We would sing it over and over again with increasing frenzy until Holy Roller behavior occurred.  The song was done in a very coercive manner.

After my being excommunicated for being gay and my early days of attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation, I would shudder whenever I heard the congregation use the word community and would practically go into a panic whenever we sang, “Now Let Us Sing.”  I spoke up about this to the congregation but instead of the congregation no longer using the word which had very manipulative connotations for me or no longer singing the song, I was invited to expand the context of meaning.  I was invited to hear the word in a new way and to sing the song in a new voice. That is healing. That is transformation.  That is transcendence. That is conversion.

I knew that I was no longer in bondage to that pain when I could use the word community and not wince at those memories.  I knew that I was no longer in bondage to that pain when I could sing, “Now Let Us Sing” and not flashback to being coercive-ly manipulated by this other group. I was finally free.

Now perhaps this example seems trivial compared to the unimaginable experiences of someone living through the Holocaust or being molested by an alleged trusted adult. But my point is either we have a religion that offers freedom and healing to its members or we do not.  If we do, and I believe we do, then we need to be willing to find creative ways to bring that healing to our members.

Isn’t that what we want our faith to offer each of us?  To find release from whatever holds us back from living our full potential?  To find a place where we can explore what that potential might in fact be?  To find a place where we can be grounded and nurtured and bloom to the fullness of our life?  Now I do not know what that looks like for each of our members. I would imagine it is wildly unique. And that is the joy of our ministry.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. Well said.

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