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The Intersection of Harm and Healing
By Carol Howard Merritt

I went to the museum with a friend. We were walking around, admiring the paintings in their humid-free, temperature controlled environment. Standing before a magnificent canvas, I watched the colors bleed with deep blue and red, until their hue took on an emotion which resonated deep inside of me. I turned to my friend and we continued to walk at a slower pace, as our conversation shifted. The painting had an effect on our words, as they moved deeper.

“Why did you become a minister?” she asked.

That’s a common question for someone like me. During seminary and the ordination process, students are constantly asked to explain their choice. Most of the time, people are not really curious. The question pops up as small talk at parties. Or it becomes a gate-keeping question in a qualifying committee meeting. People need to be sure that the student is not a budding Jim Jones, a cult leader in the making with a diabolical plan to force a horde of people to swallow his tainted Kool-Aid.

Because of those circumstances, seminary students have true, but pat answers. We tell stories about how God’s call became clear through a sermon, a book, or a fortune cookie. We often leave out the broken bits about our shattered lives, the parts that might make us or the church look bad.

This time was different. I was not trying to explain my choice during the constant interruptions of party small talk. A committee did not question me, in order to check off that I was emotionally stable. Instead, I was surrounded by paintings that moved with vibrant hues and feeling. The question came from an agnostic friend who seemed genuinely curious and was not worried about protecting the church. This time, I told the truth.

I told her that our home life could often be violent, and I learned to pray in the midst of it. When she asked why there was violence, I explained that we were a very conservative Christian family. My father was the head of the house, and expected complete, no back-talk submission. But it was the seventies, and the world wasn’t working in the same way any longer. Children were encouraged to question authority and voice concerns. Wives began working, even though that was looked down upon in our church. My contrarian siblings, working mom, and authoritarian dad caused an explosive home life.

The story didn’t make sense to my friend. She wasn’t being disrespectful, but she was trying to understand, so she persisted to ask why. I tried harder to explain it.

“Religion was both the cause of harm and the cure for me.”

When the words tumbled out of my mouth, they rang so true that I couldn’t believe that I had missed it before. At the intersection of my faith, I had been wounded and I had been healed. This set me off on a path to search for a spiritual balm.

I was not the only one. I knew so many people who had been hurt by religion, yet they could not walk away from it. They tried to, but something inside of them would not let them rest. So, instead of breaking up with God, they yearned for a better relationship and longed for a life-giving faith.

I started writing Healing Spiritual Wounds a couple of years after that stroll through the museum. I thought about the path I took. I traced the journey alongside many travelers and constructed a map, including the steps of wholeness that we needed to trod. I realized that all of our paths looked different, but there were some landmarks that were the same. We needed to begin to understand God as loving. We needed to learn to love ourselves. And we had to explore what loving our neighbor looked like. I mapped out the journey and realized that ancient wisdom emerged with each new step.

As Healing Spiritual Wounds makes its way into the world, I have been overwhelmed by the response. Beautiful, bittersweet notes full of sorrow and hope appear in my inbox. As the words continue to move from reader to reader, I pray that the book might open up a dialogue among those who have been hurt by religion’s lashes, so that Christians can begin to imagine and live out a more life-giving faith.

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