I believe healing is possible. It wasn’t always that way. For years I struggled with my woundedness and I began to think that there would be no healing for me. I would seek help and then be afraid to go the whole mile, slipping back into what I knew–isolation and distrust–once again securing the barriers I had constructed to protect myself. This even after experiencing the powerful love of Jesus crucified!
In my last article of this series on the Spirituality of Healing I told the story of my first real encounter with Christ and how it strengthened me. And it really did. I entered a relationship with Jesus, turning to him daily in simple spontaneous prayer; I was 10 years old and my repertoire of prayers was small, so I began by telling Jesus how I felt, pouring my heart out, asking for his help. Every time I prayed I felt comforted and understood. But I still felt motherless. I was still unable to shield myself from the angry rages of the woman who gave birth to me (only years later would she tell me she had tried to abort me and was angry it had failed). At the time, though, I knew one thing: I was unwanted, and I so desperately wanted to change that; it never happened. In the meantime, the Lord blessed me with a growing attachment to him and an eagerness to know him better. I found a New Testament in our home and began reading the Gospels.
The stories fascinated me, and I would go over them again and again, wishing I might have been there, or that I might experience a miracle in my own life. I kept going to Jesus, faithful to prayer, Mass, the sacraments, acknowledging my need of healing and acknowledging him as my Divine Physician, but my trust was still fragile… I would not let him probe the wounds, still less would I let him operate! Instinctively I knew healing the wounds would mean revisiting them, and that would mean more pain, and I was afraid. Instead, I put my energies in excelling at school. I became an overachiever. I also became an expert at covering my wounds–not just the physical, but the psychological and the spiritual as well–very adept at controlling my emotions. But the pain persisted.
Fast forward to 1985: I’m now a missionary sister serving in western Germany. In spring of that year, I signed up for an Ignatian retreat. On the second day of the retreat, without knowing anything about me, the Jesuit director assigned me the reading of Ezekiel, chapter 16. The text is about rejection and love: human rejection and God’s healing love. It’s very descriptive! I was caught unawares. As I read the first five verses of that chapter an unexpected wave of anger erupted and rushed through my entire body, ripping open one wound after another. I was sitting outside, and amid hot tears and sobs, I flung the Bible I was reading halfway across the lawn. This was the messy beginning of a very long journey of healing.
You may be familiar with the verse from the letter to the Hebrews, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…” (v. 4:12). My experience? It’s a surgeon’s scalpel and the surgeon is none other than the Lord himself! With his word he cut right through my barricaded heart and lanced the wounds so that everything festering there could come out to then be healed. God’s word may feel like a two-edged sword, when really, it’s the disinfecting blade of the Divine Physician’s scalpel.
I left that retreat realizing I could no longer play physician to myself. So much inside me was broken. I was afraid to love or let myself be loved. I had convinced myself I was unlovable. I felt scarred and ugly. I wanted to let go of the past, but it seemed to have an iron grip on me. My woundedness needed to be addressed by someone who could help. The time of “putting it off” was over. With the encouragement of the Jesuit retreat director and the help of one of the sisters of my community, I connected with a Dominican priest who was a licensed therapist. That first meeting is a story of its own….
For today, though, I’ve said what I felt prompted to say: the importance of the Scriptures in this spirituality of healing. Reading the Bible, praying with the Word (“lectio divina”), opening our hearts and souls to the power of God in his word is another important element of wellness and has played a tremendous part in my own journey toward wholeness.
by Sr. Mary Leonora, FSP