Life is tough and none of us escapes unscathed. In differing ways all of us end up being wounded. I find it fascinating that Leonard Cohen in his song First We Take Manhattan expressed the same idea. For there he has the line: “Well, it’s Father’s Day, and everybody’s wounded”. Precisely what Cohen had in mind I do not know. Was he referring to his experience of being a son or to his experience of being the father of two children? For many family life can be extraordinarily painful – not least when fathers reject their sons and sons reject their fathers.
Sadly, family life can become a war zone. For instance, on average the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour. But these calls do not tell the whole story. According to the 2018 Crime Survey of England and Wales only 18% of women who had experienced partner abuse in the previous 12 months had reported the abuse to the police. That same survey estimated that 28.9% (4.8 million) of women aged 16-59 have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16 years. Then there is child abuse: here figures are uncertain but research with 2,275 young people aged 11-17 suggested that around 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused.
Marriage today is becoming a minority is option in the UK. But of those who do marry, 60% of their marriages are expected to end within twenty years. Think of all the broken dreams that this statistic represents.
The pain of life is seen in the increasing number of young people self-harming. In 2014 figures were published suggesting a 70% increase in 10-14 year olds attending Accident & Emergency for self-harm related reasons over the preceding two years. It is thought that around 13% of young people aged between 11 and 16 have self-harmed, although the actual figure could be much higher.
In 2018 there were 6,507 suicides – this represents a rate of 11.2 deaths per 100,000 population. Men aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate (27.1 deaths per 100,000 males).
In 2018 more than 70 million prescriptions for antidepressants were dispensed in England – this was almost double the 36 million dispensed a decade ago in 2008. more difficult to cope with life.
However, these and other such statistics do not tell the whole story about the pain people experience. People are wounded in a thousand and one different ways, at home, at work and in the community. To name but a few of the ‘woundings’, friendships break up, a loved one dies, promotion is denied, a job is lost, health breaks down, an investment fails– in one way or another, hopes are dashed or life becomes unfair. For some the scars are visible, but for many those scars are concealed.
Furthermore, church people are just as wounded as anybody else. Behind the apparently happy and contented faces of the Sunday morning congregation there is much pain which people do not dare to reveal. In one way or another everybody is wounded. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us need healing.
But where can that healing come from? For many the wounds are so deep and traumatic that specialist long-term counselling is required. The fact is that in many instances time alone does not heal – the pain needs to be faced and the anger needs to be expressed before any moving on can begin. I know from my own personal experience how helpful this kind of therapy can be. Indeed, were the resources available, I think that everybody could benefit from becoming truly self-aware so that they can deal with the disappointments, pain, and hurt of life. However, the reality is that for less severe wounds the pastoral care of the church may prove to be sufficient for healing to take place. Here I have in mind not just the care offered by a skilful pastor, but also the care of a home group where love and support can be received.
Yet we should not forget that for Christians the ultimate healer is Christ himself. He is the ‘wounded healer’ par excellence. For he knows what it is to be hurt and wounded and even destroyed – and yet to overcome. It is the crucified and risen Christ who alone gives us the strength to live and to move on beyond the pain. And where do we encounter this crucified and risen Christ? Surely supremely as we gather around his Table. It is there as we eat bread and drink wine that healing may be found. In this regard I have discovered that the following words often used at communion within both the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions are helpful. For just before the bread and wine are given the ‘President’ says:
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Blessed are those who are called to his supper.
The people reply:
Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,
but only say the word and I will be healed
It is the people’s response which is significant. In a form of words reminiscent of the centurion’s appeal to Jesus to heal his servant (see Matt 8.8: “Lord I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word and my servant shall be healed”) we look expectantly to Christ to carry on his work of healing in our lives. For whenever we eat bread and drink wine, we open our lives afresh to him and experience his healing power. As Michael Sean Winters commented wrote in his blog ‘Distinctly Catholic’ (22 Aug 2013):
In our deepest, darkest, most broken selves, the parts where we do not want to let the light shine, where we prefer not even to consider because it just hurts too much, Jesus can shine His light and bring healing.