by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM January 26, 2020
Myrrh and the Magi started it all. I had never really pursued an understanding of that third gift of the visitors from the East, the one we can rattle off after gold and frankincense. But I learned recently that myrrh is a fragrant resin produced when certain small thorny tree species receive wounds that penetrate the bark and go deeper into the wood. The resin then gathers and hardens into crystals, and those crystals can be used for medicinal purposes. So myrrh, I discovered, comes from the wounds of a tree, the brokenness of a living thing, and from those wounds comes a new path towards healing.
We can stand in awe at the healing power of our bodies in the aftermath of wounds or fractures. Something as tiny as a paper cut can marshal blood vessels and platelets to tangle together, form a clot, and seal a wound. We can bow down in wonder at the way a fracture summons new bone growth, knitting together, forming a callus, and sometimes surpassing the unbroken bone itself in its strength. Our bodies intuitively seem to know that wounds and breaks, though in no way desired or sought after, are also not the definitive end of the story. They can be an invitation to unexpected new ways of looking at life and moving forward.
From woundedness to a new creation, from brokenness to agents of healing: that seems to be the invitation myrrh provides. Henri Nouwen offers an unusual perspective on our brokenness, the physical and emotional pain we carry from the multitude of ways in which the human family is capable of hurting one another. He acknowledges the reality of suffering and the reality that not everything can be cured or fixed. And in The Wounded Healer, Nouwen notes that the Christian community is a healing community for this surprising reason: “not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.”
Nouwen suggests that our suffering in the present moment might in some way be the place, the locus where God intimates a new creation. He believes that the pain we carry right now from the wounds of loss, rejection, failure, shame, and exclusion can open us to fresh ways of seeing and being in this world: perhaps a deeper listening, a more engaged relationship of prayer, a newfound patience, a heightened compassion for the pain of others.
The poet, Jane Hirschfield, further describes some of the avenues of healing and communion available to us in “For What Binds Us”:
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly wherever they’ve been set down–
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses, when it comes back darker and raised:
proud flesh, as all flesh is proud of its wounds,
wears them as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest –
And when two people have loved each other,
see how it is like a scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Take a tally of any significant emotional or physical scars or calluses you carry in body and spirit.
Has the experience of adjusting to a new reality caused you to look at life in a fresh way?
What learnings have been part of your healing?
Spend time in conversation with the Holy One.
Pay attention to what you hear, and give thanks.
Thank you for remembering in your prayer all who were part of the retreat experience I led for the Board of Directors of the Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast this past week.
During the winter, I take one month to break from being on the road and devote myself to writing and creating and planning future retreat experiences. Please note that this year that will happen during February and I’d be grateful if you send your prayerful energies my way for that purpose. Thank you!
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