Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
Promise of Home

Love Heals

Love Heals

Psalm 18:1-6, 16-19, 35

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

10 March 2024

            Often, the relationships that should have been loving—should have been where we felt at home, fully alive, welcomed, understood, and embraced as our authentic selves—are also the source of our deepest wounds.  Dysfunctional families, neglectful or abusive parents, unhealthy or toxic relationships, betrayal, infidelity, dishonesty, etc.  What should have been loving can be wounding instead.

            And, yet, we maintain the belief that love itself is the power of healing.  True love, genuine love, healthy love, divine love.  That sort of love does set us free, make us feel at home, enliven and empower us, in order that we might flourish.

            bell hooks argues in her book All About Love that we humans are bad at loving because we don’t understand how to do it well.  I mentioned that a couple of weeks ago as one of the motivating factors behind our Lenten exploration of the topic.

            But, despite that concern, hooks is convinced of the healing and redemptive powers of love. 

            She does write about her own experiences of being wounded in the family she grew up in, and the struggles that resulted.  She write about how her “self-destructive, self-betraying behavior” trapped her.  She continues:

We could not choose healing because we were not sure we could ever mend, that the broken bits and pieces could ever be put together again.  We comforted ourselves by acting out.  But this comfort did not last.  It was usually followed by depression and overwhelming grief.  We longed to be rescued because we did not know how to save ourselves.  More often than not we became addicted to living dangerously.  Clinging to this addiction made it impossible for us to be well in our souls.  As with all other addiction, letting go and choosing wellness was our only way of rescue and recovery.

            In her vulnerable honesty about the effects of her family of origin upon her adult lack of wellbeing and unhealthy living, hooks points us to an important reality about love and its relationship to healing.  One of the most important things we can do as people is to provide children a loving childhood.  Providing healthiness from the get-go can alleviate so much of the need for healing later in life.

            One of the best books I, as a parent, read about childhood was Allison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby.  The book is written for a general audience, though it’s obvious why I as a philosopher engaged with it so.  I’ve talked and written about the book numerous times before, but one of its most important contributions is the discussion of how love is vital to healthy childhood development.  And how love is then cultivated in children through the way they are raised. 

            She summarizes all the scientific data that shows lifelong damage done to people with unhealthy, unloving childhoods.  They generally grow up with poorer physical and mental health, are less happy, are more depressed, more like to experience addiction and dangerous behaviors, and even more likely to have worse economic outcomes.  The evidence is overwhelming that getting the first few years of life right is the most important thing we can do for any human being.  Gopnik concludes:

You would think that if there is anything in the world that we can all agree is an unequivocal good, a moral absolute, an end in itself, it is the happiness and health of children.  You would think everyone would agree that a sick, or miserable, or abused child is an unequivocal evil if anything is.

            She also writes about how babies learn morality through the affection and attachment they receive from their caregivers.  Babies deprived of touch, support, or intimacy, are very unlikely to develop empathy or compassion or an understanding of fundamental moral practices.  She writes that babies are actually capable of empathy and morality from the beginning of life.  It’s not that they have to learn it from a blank slate.  But that their instincts in that direction need to be affirmed and then modeled off of the adults caregivers in their lives. 

            Adults must be aware of these realities and so intentional in the encouraging, supportive, and loving ways they interact with children.  Because we know that some jerk who says or does something critical, inappropriate, or shaming can have lasting negative effects.

            So the first and most vital way for love to be healing, is for us to do our best to provide loving and supportive childhoods for all human beings.

            But, what if we carry some wound through life?  How does love then heal us?  And bell hooks provides lots of helpful advice.  She says it begins by taking responsibility for our own healing.  Healing is not a passive thing.  It does to occur without our participation.  It cannot be done for us by someone else.  She says we must open our hearts and do the work.

            Though she does add that it isn’t work we do alone.  We must be the agents of our healing, but we can’t do it as individuals.  “Healing is an act of communion,” she writes.  And the most power healing relationships are those of healthy, genuine love, that promote our spiritual growth and well-being.

            She does suggest some specific things to do.  One is to pray.  Prayer, she says, strengthens our soul.  It stretches us and opens us up, and brings comfort and hope. 

            She also recommends practices of waiting and surrender, of learning to let go, such as in Buddhist contemplation.  These spiritual practices create space for compassion, for both ourselves and others, and then awaken us to the power of service on behalf of others.

            And service to others can itself be one of the most healing things we do.  As it draws us outside of ourselves into engagement with others in ways that honors and respects them and their worth and well-being. 

            She believes that these spiritual practices can aid us in releasing all the baggage that we carry.  Including learning to let go of shame and practice forgiveness and reconciliation.

            Another spiritual practice of healing she recommends is living simply.  She writes that so much of the clutter and busy-ness of our lives distracts us from the spiritual journey.  And if we learned to live more simply, then we would be likely to experience delight, and “engage the sensual world around us with . . . pleasure.”

            If we do engage in these healing spiritual practices, then the awakening that results, hooks writes, “is a resurrection.”  Which, of course, is precisely what we are aiming for this Lenten season, as we move toward Easter Sunday.

            bell hooks writes, “Despite all the lovelessness that surrounds us, nothing has been able to block our longing for love, the intensity of our yearning.”  For her, this is the most hopeful thing.  Despite all of humanity’s failures to center love and to love well, we humans are still longing, still searching, still desiring, still striving to get it right.  “The persistence of this call,” she writes, “give us reason to hope.” 

            For our very yearning, the idea that we still haven’t achieved the love we aim for, is what creates the opportunity, the possibility, for healing and growth.

            And what we Christians encounter in our tradition is a God who loves us, who hears our cries, and saves us.  God delivers us, heals us, restores us, and transforms us. 

            The connection between love and healing and deep in our religious tradition.  Recently I read a book about Mary Magdalene that emphasized her leadership in the early Christian community as an apostle of wisdom, love, and healing.  And the book talked about how anointing is tied to Mary Magdalene, and the role of anointing in the healing traditions of the church.  The book encouraged that we do more anointing, as a sacred ritual, maybe even a sacrament, to lift up the role of healing.

            We have done that in our worship, though it’s been a while.  I think I’ll do some anointing as part of our Holy Week services this year.  Of course, there is an aspect of anointing on Ash Wednesday.  When we mark the forehead with ashes to remind us of our mortality, the ashes have been mixed with oil.  Otherwise they wouldn’t stick well.  But it isn’t just a practical reason oil is mixed with the ashes.  The ritual is an anointing.  It is a reminder of healing.  Particularly that open and honest discussion of our mortality and death is part of spiritual and emotional health and well-being.

            I’m currently teaching an adult forum series on God in contemporary theology, and as I was preparing for this week’s class, I was reviewing one of the more recent books of the greatest living theologian, the German Jurgen Moltmann.  And in that book he writes about how if we better grasped the ways that God is present to us, it would help us to answer our existential questions and live better during this time of crisis for humanity. 

            And what is it about God that we should grasp?  These are the three bullet points we highlights:

  • In the eternal yes of the living God, we affirm our fragile and vulnerable humanity in spite of death.
  • In the eternal love of God, we love life and resist its devastations.
  • In the ungraspable nearness of God, we trust in what is saving, even if the dangers are growing.

Despite all that might wound us and harm us—in our presents, our pasts, or even the future coming to humanity—we can continue to say yes to life, to hope, to delight, to trust that we can be healed, because we experience and believe in the amazing grace and love of God.


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