Healing History

Healing History

Presented December 11th, 2022       Rev. Fiona Heath

There is some irony in the fact in preparing a service on healing I became sick with a cold. It is not COVID, I tested, but it is one of those bugs that makes you feel heavy and tired.

Fortunately I feel much brighter this morning, and to reduce any risk, we are wiping the podium between speakers, I am keeping a mask and sanitizer by my side, and I will leave after the service ends to prevent transmission.

Yesterday as I felt worse and worse, I took care of myself. I took cold medication, changed my plans for the day, curled up and took a nap while Marc watched the world cup, and drank ginger beer.

In short, I responded to illness by caring for myself.  Just as you would do if you had broken your arm: you go to the hospital, get an x-ray, have a cast put on, and protect the arm until it heals.

We live in a society where care of the body is important, and we have an incredible medical system to support physical ailments. When you break your arm, no one ever says tough it out. Or just let it go. Or it’s such a small break, barely a fracture, it’s nothing at all.

As a society we aren’t so good at managing the other hurts of living – the emotional damage, the spiritual fractures – that, like colds and broken bones, are part of being alive and connected to the others.

We may have been deeply hurt by people we loved and trusted, we may be worn down by one thousand micro-aggressions about the colour of our skin or who we love, we may be injured from experiencing the great trauma of war and violence, or harmed by strictures of family or religion.

There are a lot of ways to get hurt!

And while we can put on a strong suit of armor to get through the day, in the long run, armor is too constricting. We have to take it off and tend to the hurts.

As the saying goes, “whatever you resist persists.” When we listen to the voices telling us to toughen up, to just get over it already, we end up carrying the pain longer.

Sometimes we have to do this to survive. This was certainly true for many indigenous people who were ignored when they spoke of the pain of residential schools or being treated as second class citizens.

Much of the work of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was to listen and hear and honour their pain. It has made a difference.

Indigenous concerns – spoken from their own perspective – are in the news.  They are winning court battles over rights and land. Land acknowledgements serve as on-going reminders of the cost of the colonial past. It isn’t enough, but it is a start towards healing.

When there is harm in the past, healing begins when it is named and heard. When it is named and heard – whether that is just by you or by someone you trust – it’s a release of stuck energy – the phoenix rises from the ashes, renewed.

I had a friend at university who was a lot of fun to be around and also difficult. She did not suffer fools gladly and expressed a great deal of judgement.

At times it hurt, and if I called her on it, she was dismissive and never said sorry, so I learnt not to say anything. I found I was developing an underlying resentment, despite valuing her friendship.

One night she said something thoughtless when I was sharing a painful experience, and I said, quietly, that her words hurt too. She was silent for a moment, and for the first time, looked at me and said sorry, sincerely.

That word, said with meaning, was all it took for all that resentment to release. I can remember that feeling of tension just washing away.

There is something sacred in the act of being truly heard.

As people of the chalice we take the inherent worth and dignity of all people as a central understanding.

It is a sign of the greatest respect to truly listen to another, to hear their emotional pain, and not judge it, not take it on ourselves, and not to dismiss it, but to hear the pain and acknowledge it.

As American writer Rachel Naomi Remen says, “The places in which we are seen and heard are holy places. They remind us of our value as human beings. They give us the strength to go on.”

The places we are seen and heard are holy places.

My hope is that this is a holy place for each of you. That each of you is seen and heard here in all your beautiful glory.

When that happens, there is room for healing. When we release that stuck energy, the phoenix rises.

This is true of individuals, communities, and societies. We need to acknowledge the harms and hurts of the past in order to heal. We can’t hide from them, or deny them, we must face them.

Each of you have inherent worth. Please take care of yourselves, treat yourselves with kindness and compassion. As I said last week, it’s all about survival of the nurtured.

So place your hand on your heart with kindness – or hold your hands gently – remember a time when you were truly heard and seen. Did anything release in you? When have you become a phoenix?

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We are spending this year exploring healing and growing. Healing is a process which involves releasing past pain through naming and caring for that trauma, or through present experiences that dissolve the hurt.

Healing might arise from being truly heard and seen, from the kindness of others. It might come from within your own spirit. While you can’t make anyone acknowledge harm they may have done, you can love and nurture yourself.

It helps if you can feel all your feelings, even the difficult ones, and simply accept them all. It helps to speak your own truth – what you feel, what you need.

In some cases it may help to tell yourself a new story. Not the story of pain “that bastard ruined my life” but “I rose like a phoenix from that dreadful experience.”

A therapist calls this finding the good augit. Augit means to be able to stay with the good bits of your life. To find the joy even as you hurt.

For collectives, like this chalice community, or countries, healing involves being able to name the past or the problem openly, without blame or judgement, without defensiveness, being able to sit with the uncomfortable feelings together.

The country of Germany has worked hard to acknowledge and accept the horrific legacy of Hitler and Nazism.This collective culture of atonement is known as Ver-gangen-heitsaufar-beitung. This translates loosely to “working off the past.”

Germany understood that a nation has to face its criminal past in order to become whole and strong and not riven by unsaid guilt, unsaid resentment. It’s a process that takes time, but you come out better in the end. It is imperfect and hasn’t stopped extremism but it is meaningful.

As I said, we are beginning this process here with Truth & Reconciliation with the indigenous people. We are also in the early stages of facing systemic racism, with the 8th Principle as part of acknowledging our painful history.

It is when we face the past that we can see our wholeness, can be our whole selves.

As Unitarian Universalists I believe that “we are seeing life steadily and seeing it whole.” (Mary Stewart).

We don’t begin from concepts of original sin or brokenness. We begin from wholeness, from that sense of interdependence with all other beings in the world. What wholeness means, is that while we are wounded, we are not broken.  That all of us belongs, even the traumas we carry.

Knowing we begin from wholeness means that we understand, as the Buddha says, that life is suffering as well as joy.

Wholeness means pain and healing are all jumbled up together. We might heal a little, hurt a little, heal a little more. It’s all part of being holy and wholly beings.

Beginning from wholeness helps us develop empathy. Rachel Naomi Remen says that “wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people.” That kindness and empathy helps everyone heal from the pain of life.

We all carry hurts, some are easier to heal then others, some take a lifetime to process and release. But we are always whole, pain and all.

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UU minister Nancy Schaeffer says:

How shall we mend you, sweet Soul?
What shall we use, and how is it
in the first place you’ve come to be torn?
Come sit. Come tell me.
We will find a way to mend you.

Being seen, being heard is the first step to healing. The poem goes on:

How shall we mend you, sweet Soul?
With these, I think, gently
we can begin: we will mend you with a rocking
chair, some raisins,
a cat, a field of lavender beginning
now to bloom. …

We will mend you with pieces of your own
sweet self, sweet Soul —

with what you’ve taught
from the very beginning.

 From Instructions in Joy, by Rev. Nancy Shaffer.

 I love this idea that we mend with pieces of our own sweet self, that we are already whole, no matter how torn our souls might be. Sometimes we just forget for a little while.

May we be heard and seen.

May we rise like the phoenix from the ashes of pain.

May we find the good in ourselves, the good in life and remember that we are, just as we are, part of the great, wondrous whole.

 

So Say We All.

 

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