Paradigms - Part II: Henri Nouwen Book Titles

As the ideas discussed in the prior posting swirl around in my head and heart, a phrase climbs slowly out of the fog, giving itself an extra prominence: The Wounded Healer.

The Wounded Healer is a book written by Catholic priest and contemplative writer Henri Nouwen in 1972. Nouwen was a fascinating man, and the book a worthwhile read, though the title itself has more bearing on the present discussion than does the content of the book. The phrase, of course, makes me think of Jesus, and Nouwen uses it to describe us as we imitate Christ. It does not at all remind me of the medical institution’s image of its own practitioners. There, the two pervading images are, either the healer who needs to be whole himself/herself before extending help to others, or the healer whose personal condition has no bearing on his/her healing work.

How is Christ a “wounded healer”, and in what sense are supposed to imitate this? I can think of two ways. First, Christ’s wounds are substitutionary, as Isaiah wrote centuries before Christ, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (53:5).” Because he was wounded, we no longer have to be. I can envision a few glorious human examples where one might imitate this (such as the end of A Tale of Two Cities), but overall this provides little in the way of guidance for my own medical practice.

But there is a second and more subtle way that Christ may model the “wounded healer”. The unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes that part of the reason Christ is the greatest “high priest” (able to mediate perfectly between God the Father and mankind) is because he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (5:15).” Did these temptations “wound” Christ? I do not know. But what is evident is that the personal story of Christ (both its ebb and flow) enables his healing of others, instead of detracting or even distracting from it. There is potential here for an appropriate guide for us to model. But how?

I do recommend Ellen's comment from the first post for more food for thought.

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