The Wounded Healer revisited….

I recently re-read The Wounded Healer by Henry Nouwen as part of a certification class in Christian Education. This book has been part of my personal bookshelf for about 8-9 years, since an experience of “woundedness” that profoundly affected my view of myself, my ministry, my life. This book helped me when I first read it. I had felt that what I had experienced somehow would be detrimental to my Christian witness, an obstacle that would keep others from relating to me. Through Nouwen’s explanation I came to understand that for each of us our “wounds”, our scars, can become that which identifies us as capable of entering into the suffering and pain of others, just as Christ’s wounds, his scars (which He chose to keep as a visible part of Himself when He was resurrected) were proof of His own suffering on our behalf.In re-reading this, however, I noticed something in the final chapter entitled “Conclusion” (The Wounded Healer, Doubleday, 1972, pg. 99) Nouwen writes, “When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian.” The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I read that. It seems to me that that is precisely what has occurred in our culture. “Christians” are claiming for themselves the right to live ‘authentically’, even if it is not in the model of Christ Himself. And so we have Christians living unrepentantly in cohabitating relationships, in homosexual relationships, in any number of circumstances that cause others to question their commitment to their ‘Christian’ faith and to what have traditionally been considered ‘Christian’ values and practices. Is ‘authenticity’ , or transparency, or refusing to live hypocritically THE defining character of Chrisitianity? I think not.Nouwen continues, “The minister is the one who can make this search for authenticity possible, not by standing on the side as a neutral screen or an impartial observer, but as an articulate witness for Christ, who puts his own search at the disposal of others. This hospitality requires that the minister know where he stands and whom he stands for, but it also requires that he allow others to enter his life, come close to him and ask him how their lives connect with his.” It seems to me that this additional comment corrects a misperception that one could infer from the first statement- that authenticity, or lack of hypocrisy, alone is the most important ideal, if not the true essence, of the Christian faith. By stating that the minister must be an “articulate witness for Christ” and must “know where he stands and whom he stands for” he appears to be stating the case for doctrinal soundness and Biblical authority. If Christ is NOT the model for a Christian’s life, then who or what is? When we separate ‘Christian’ from ‘Christ’ we get the many “ways and forms” that we see in the world today, many of which appear at times to some of us of a more traditional and evangelical cut of the cloth to be more a case of thumbing their noses at Christianity than seeking to truly practice it.