The Blessing is Next to the Wound
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
I've spoken about our need for healing of whatever in us and in our lives that stand in opposition to God’s will, our need for healing of whatever prevents us in becoming more loving towards one another and ourselves. In the Gospels, we read about Jesus actively going to places of sickness, alienation and pain to bring about healing, and he brings his disciples with him. As disciples of this Jesus, we are also called to go to those places of brokenness and suffering (not run away from them) we go to bring about healing. These places are not necessarily far away, but could be the place where we live, and work and worship.
We often associate the word “healing” with the health care profession. Indeed, some go to school to learn the healing arts. Yet, Jesus invites all of us to take up some work of healing of some brokenness, alienation or hurt we find in our own world. We can’t possibly heal the entire world, but there is perhaps something in the part of the world where we can make a difference. But how? What can teach us to heal? To answer this, I digress to a favorite story I have carried with me all these years, and I want to share it with you. It was written by a minister, William H. Armstrong, and he entitled it, A Fable.
It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The eagle, too, was drenched, and his spirits dampened as well, for his mate lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. There was no way to keep her dry, and the eagle looked on with despair as her life slowly drained away. His tears mingled with the rain when she died.
It was raining in the forest. The eagle could not stand the rain. It brought back memories too painful for him to bear. He rose up from the trees, hoping in flight to escape his thoughts. Higher and higher he climed until finally he broke through the dark clouds into the dazzling sunlight that lay beyond. As the warm sun dried his wings, he suddenly realized that the healing sun had been there all the time his mate needed it. The pain of knowledge learned too late was more than he could stand, and there were tears for the sun to dry.
It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The rabbit, too, was drenched, and her spirits dampened as well, for her child lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. She poured out her sad tale to all who would listen, but the other creatures, too were victims of the rain, and none could help. As eagle happened by, and the rabbit began to tell her tale to him, but she had hardly started speaking when the eagle suddenly lifted the rabbit’s dying child onto his wings and began to circle quickly up into the dark and stormy clouds on an errand he did not take time to explain.
William H. Armstrong ended the story with these words: “Our pain may teach us how to heal.”
We all would like to avoid pain and suffering altogether. Yet, they are a fact of our life. We all have been wounded by life. And despite the fact that we rather not have the pain we have encountered in our lives, it is true what Armstrong says in that story: our wounds, our pain can help us heal. When we have sufficient healing of our wounds, when we do not allow them to defeat us, then can we reach out and help those who likewise now carry the same wounds.
When I was a seminarian in a church in the South Bronx, I was asked to co-teach Sunday School with a woman by the name of Gloria. As I got to know Gloria, she related to me that she was devastated when her son was killed in a gang-related violence a few years before. A few years later, she lost a niece to gun violence. Rather than simply accepting violence as a necessary fact of life, she said enough is enough and organized a Bronx chapter of the New Yorkers Against Violence and she also now heads the Million Mom March Against Gun Violence to deal with and heal the violence in her community. She did not allow her pain to defeat her, but used it to heal and bring forth life where death is to be found. I know of a priest who works with the homeless not because of some heroic virtue or sanctity found in him, but his painful experience of having been uprooted from home and family at an early age enables him to bind the wounds of those who have no roots or a home to call their own.
One of the early memories of my childhood is about my dying grandfather. I remember spending days in the cancer ward of the hospital, keeping vigil at my grandfather’s bed. The family was just broken and fearful to let go because we were all so afraid of death because death seemed to bring not only an end to life but also to love. I do remember a nun who was also a terminal cancer patient. She would go around, and visit and pray with people, including our family. And as we see her embrace her own suffering and made peace with her own death with great faith, she helped us to surrender my dear grandfather to God.
I don’t want to romanticize pain or suffering as if they are, in and of themselves, good and something we ought to desire. There is nothing ennobling about making ourselves suffer needlessly. And certainly I don’t want to say that God intentionally inflicts pain and suffering upon us so that we might use them for whatever good purpose. But, despite the inexplicable fact of suffering we encounter in this life, we might just discover nevertheless that God is at work in our wounds, even allowing us possibly to use these wounds as instruments of his healing love.
There is an African proverb- “The blessing is next to the wound.” “The blessing is next to the wound.” That is not only African, but also a very Christian view. We know no other God but the God who has been wounded by life, wounded on the cross. Yet he was not defeated by his wounds. The resurrection stories in the Gospels portray the risen Christ still bearing his wounds. Yet, he is the risen Christ triumphant over the wounds of life. The wounds of Jesus never disappeared; what disappeared was their power to destroy. These wounds have been transformed from being wounds of suffering and death to being wounds that brought healing to the broken world.
At the center of our worship is this Altar in our church. It is more than just a piece of furniture in this church, more than just a wooden table. It is central to our worship for it signifies the Body of the Crucified Christ. The top of the Altar is etched with five crosses, symbolizing the five wounds of the Crucified. Yet this Altar also signifies the risen Body of the crucified Christ where now still flows the life-giving and healing grace we receive from the Bread and Wine that is the Body and Blood of him we call Christ. This Altar is placed in the midst of our community to challenge us to believe that as Jesus heals us through his wounds, likewise, perhaps, through our wounds, God’s grace is at work so that through them we might be able to bring love and healing to those around us. “The blessing is next to the wound.”
© 2022 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Episcopal priest in the Philippines. He runs Nazareth House, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality for persons with HIV/AIDS in Manila.
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