Healing Spiritual Wounds

healing-spiritual-woundsI’m ever grateful for the written work of colleagues whose words deepen the ongoing conversations about Church & faith in the 21st century.

Carol Howard Merritt’s new book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church (HarperCollins 2017) is an important addition to these conversations, as she turns a practiced & pastoral eye on the Church and the ways in which it harms its own.

In the 21st century American context where the Church continuously rebrands itself against decreasing statistics & cultural prestige, the work of confession cannot be separated from efforts of relevancy. Contrary to popular complaints among church professionals about scarcity in the pews, Christians who reject the Church or keep their affiliations to a minimum are not merely distracted by Sunday soccer or satisfied to pray on a stroll through the park. More significantly, too many have not found the Church to be a sanctuary for their spiritual journeys. There are necessary lessons for the Church to infer from Healing Spiritual Wounds, and I encourage church professionals not to skim past these.

Carol, however, importantly & necessarily strives to speak foremost to those who have been harmed by the Church, its ministers, its theologies, and its communities. Such an audience may have no reason to trust a Church insider, but Carol does not offer light platitudes and she does not belittle spiritual pain. She vouches for the reality of the Church’s sins with her own story, and she shares several others’ experiences to give readers plenty of room to hear validation rather than dismissal of the Church’s harm.

Healing Spiritual Wounds is the gift of Carol’s retreat leadership in book form, complete with reflective opportunities and creative exercises to peel back the spiritual scabs and renew faith in God. The book is a deceptively easy read — the pages flip past like a good & heartfelt spiritual memoir — but each chapter does heavy lifting to unpack theology & sociology & history in order to give the reader permission to name spiritual wounds and to claim new, grace-filled understandings.

(I appreciate enormously that Carol does this work without falling into unhelpful categorizations of “conservative” or “liberal” theologies. She names the Church’s harms topically — emotional, physical, financial, spiritual, etc. — and through stories acknowledges that harm is caused by the Church across its theological/political spectrum.)

If the book can be faulted for being almost too simple in its effort to be accessible — at times I wanted the theological conversation to be more overt — nevertheless the aim of accessibility is important enough to overlook such a minor fault. Because the Church needs this book. Because people who have been hurt by the Church need this book.

As I was pleased to express in my endorsement: “Healing Spiritual Wounds is a gift of candid and caring space for those who have been hurt by the Church, and Carol Howard Merritt is a wise and gentle guide through the complex work of spiritual recovery. Welcome to a deeper, healthier faith journey.”

Lent 36

Come, friend: the world is hard enough.
Let’s not argue over access to God or
qualifications for loving one another.
We’re walking in the same direction (and
goodness knows I have much to learn),
so if you will keep me honest then
I’ll watch your back, and we’ll simply
take this thing one step at a time —
but let’s not forget we’re in it together.

on John 12:20-22

Lent 33

Creating & Advocating God,
would that we (like you)
could speak a word and
it would come into being!

Then we would say, “Love!” and suddenly
all would be their brothers’ keepers.

We would say, “Peace be with you!”
and the wars between us would cease.

“Justice!” would no longer be lip service
but actual restitution and restoration.

“Healing!” would not be a prayer for tidy solutions
but a commitment to join the messy work.

If we spoke “Truth!” it would step off its soapbox
to open its ears and to love people’s stories.

And proclamations of “Faith!” would not
burrow in pulpits and bibles but take
long strolls of curiosity, share songs of joy,
trust in the least of these for its very livelihood,
and give hearts the courage to grow together.

on James 2:14

Fifth Sunday in Lent (With Us or Against Us)

Dear Jesus,

I like to think that snark is a spiritual gift, that the well-executed side eye is a liturgical act, that being driven to inwardly climb walls is an act of spiritual sacrifice. Sarcasm and self-righteous frustration are essential spiritual disciplines for bridging that convenient chasm with annoying, insulting Christians who I’m sure you love dearly but oh. my. god. I’m not sure how you do.

Tell me, please, that you too had #headdesk moments — when the Pharisees scolded you for not washing your hands before a meal, for example, or when your friends tried to shoo away the children who ran to see you. Tell me that you wrote #smh on the ground when a crowd of men asked you to publicly shame an adulterous woman but protected the identity of her lover.

Are not irritation and silent condemnation enough to qualify as “relating” to those aggravating brothers and sisters who also claim your name, if not quite in the way I believe they should? Won’t you please give me a gold Sunday School star for bearing the small-mindedness of your devotees with patience, or must I also suspend judgment?

You who provoke us to honesty in faith and consistency in practice, surely you must rage when Christians preach love but damn & deny others’ lives. Can’t I rage about it too? Must you also provoke me to examine my faithful practice (or lack thereof) of fellowship and commitment to the health of the whole Body? Cannot the arm simply allow the foot to be consumed by its own demons?

Srsly, Jesus.


#headdesk: banging one’s head against a desk in frustration
#smh: shaking my head or smacking my head
srsly: seriously