Healing - Wholeness toward Holiness
What is healing? I've been pondering the last couple of weeks on the word 'wholeness'. It's a popular word, and a good thing to want, in these times of alienation and fragmentation. It's a word that has to do with mind and body health and integration. It is used a lot in spirituality circles. But I've been wondering whether 'wholeness' is actually the summit and goal of our lives as Christians, and the main thing we should hope for in ourselves or others when we ask for healing. I'm thinking that wholeness, while a good in itself, serves another goal, which is described by the scarier word 'holiness.' And that if wholeness becomes the focus, it actually becomes an idol that can undermine holiness.
When I think about healing and wholeness through a Christian lens, I start with the assumption that we are all broken in some way, all acting out of some form of defensiveness or protectiveness of the places that hurt. And that healing of that brokenness is a gradual process of coming to know who we are in truth, rather than in our false identity, which is the story about ourselves that we have inherited from others or that we use to mask the pain of our reality. Outside the Christian framework, wholeness has to do with integration of the various parts of our lives around a stable centre. Most likely that 'centre' is some version of our self, preferably a 'true' or 'authentic' self.
Within the Christian framework that centre is more defined, and bigger. The centre is 'God in me', or 'my true self in union with God.' I think that healing that leads to “Christian wholeness” starts with knowing that we bear the image of God and are loved by God regardless of our beliefs and our behaviour. Wholeness comes from knowing that the deepest truth about me and everyone else is that we are children of God, through the work of the Spirit in us. It comes from being as loved as we are fully known, with all our dark corners and awkwardness and marks of our past as well as our singular, unique loveliness and giftedness.
The text that I have been sitting with in relation to this is the conviction from the Apostle Paul that we need not be orphans or estranged from God, because in Christ we are adopted – given a new name, which is actually our true or original name, and ushered into a new family, one which is meant to cross all the boundaries and divisions and distinctions that we might once have used to judge and exclude.
All who are guided by the Spirit of God are children of God; for what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. (Rom 8.14-16)
There is a deep belonging and sense being 'held' in this choice of image – God is not over against us, we are invited into the home and heart of God as 'children' – the closest bond there can be. I think that for many of us it is very difficult to trust our own welcome as children of God, as Beloved. It is even more difficult to genuinely offer this welcome to others.
Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation writes: You and I and all of us were made to find our identity in the one Mystical Christ, in whom we all complete one another…[but] as long as we are on the earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a body of broken bones.
This experience of being a body of broken bones, and living in a world of brokenness as well as goodness, is where I think that my or anyone's wholeness is not enough. In order to love in a way that can offer a space of healing to others, our love needs to be transformed – to become more than the usual kind of love that embraces what it can like and enjoy with ease.
The kind of love that welcomes in the strange and difficult 'other' has to do with that other word I mentioned – the scary one – 'holiness'. Holiness includes being able to confess, grieve for our mistakes, forgive and be forgiven, in the process of creating a transformed human society. Holiness is where we take our eyes off our own personal journey into wholeness and offer ourselves to the healing of the world. Or, as Peter Stuart puts it, moving on from becoming '”whole” in the world as it is,' and 'entering deeply into God's work of transforming this broken world.' As I understand it, holiness is a radical de-centering of self and orientation toward the Other – first God, then other people.
A journey into 'wholeness' often leads to feelings of peace and wellbeing and balance. A journey into 'holiness' often leads to feelings of turbulence, disturbance, and uncertainty. I don't mean to put these two ideas against each other, as though they're opposed. They're not – they're two aspects of a single transforming process. But I think too often we're subtly invited or encouraged to see wholeness as the destination. When it's not. And, the concept of wholeness can often be fraught with illusion – when we reach a kind of contentment or comfort we can believe that we are well, and have 'arrived.' When actually we're just resting, and the call to holiness moves us again into circumstances where we're confronted with more of ourselves that needs to be healed or let go, and more of the world's need that is ours to respond to. Without holiness, the pursuit of wholeness can be deceptive and selfish.
The end goal of healing is not a lack of turbulence, or a sense of peacefulness – nice as these are to have – but the desire and capacity to reach out with our own broken hands and offer healing and love to others. The text that I read before from Romans goes on like this: And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, provided that we share his suffering, so as to share his glory. (Rom 8.17)
Holiness is not about morality, purity or good behaviour. It's about sharing in the suffering of Christ – being disturbed by all that disturbs God, being with the pain of others, receiving in ourselves the effects of the brokenness of the world – our capacity to love in a self-giving way. I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me. (Gal 2.20) The healing that leads to holiness is not about being well or feeling good, or even being whole. It is the healing of our very existence as a separate, self-oriented entity. And it might hurt more than before we started. It might include crucifixion.
Within this wider economy of healing toward wholeness and holiness, we may experience specific healing processes or events – of bodily illness or pain, of a particular emotional distress, of a broken relationship, of a distorted view of self and God – and so on. I think it is always the ministry of the church to create the space for healing in the name of Christ the healer. But as well as focusing on these particular requests or events, I think it's also important to place them in context. The wider context for Christian healing is to grow into a deep sense of belonging in the love of God – wholeness – and then offering that love to others in the concrete messiness of this life, even at cost to ourselves – which I'm calling 'holiness.' May our desire for healing lead us ever deeper into this calling, here in this community, and in our being in the world.