Sunday, May 26, 2013

"There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed": reflection on therapy

This week I've been cleaning out my closets--something I've been meaning to do for the past two years. While straightening out the closets, I made many discoveries--some things that were precious, and some things that needed to be tossed. It felt good finally to have my closets in some order.
For me, therapy has been like opening a closet that has been locked for many years and discovering things I would prefer to forget. I was amazed at the intensity of the feelings I have been carrying inside me, unawares, for many decades. I realize I put these things into my closet because I didn’t know any better at the time , but now I feel the need to clean out this mess and bring to light all I have taken pains to avoid. It was a painful, nasty job and and everything in me cried out: “I don't want to go back there!” But I didn't it alone. I’ve been did it with a caring, competent therapist, and with God's help and grace, and with people who love me.
(FYI I was greatly helped by a local Christian healer named Bill Berry whose "Healing Mother Wounds" workshop was amazingly powerful and helpful. I also benefited from a therapist who practiced a form of therapy known as EMDR.)
In doing this work, I am reminded of what Jesus said, "There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open" (Luke 18:17). Hence the bumper sticker: "God loves wikileaks."
Jesus's words fly in the face of our desire for privacy and secrecy. Yet numerous examples prove that what Jesus said is true. Despite all the efforts of the Catholic church to conceal the dark deeds of sexual predators in the priesthood, and despite government efforts to intimidate whistleblowers. the truth eventually was revealed.
The same thing is the case in our personal lives, especially in this age of the internet. Sooner or later, what we try to hide is revealed.
When we undergo therapy, we come to realize that, like the Pharisees, we are “polished sepulchres,” beautiful or at least respectable looking on the outside, but inside full of “dead men's bones,” the skeletons of our past. With God's grace, we can bring these skeletons to light. Released from their hiding place, they will no longer haunt us, no longer trigger our fears and our rage. 
As we dig deeper into the closet, we find not only the horrors of the past, but also a buried treasure. A beautiful lost pearl. We pick it up and hold it in our hands and realize it is truth, the human truth about ourselves that links us with others.
All of us have things in our closets that we would prefer not to see. I remember I once did a Buddhist meditation led by Joanna Macy that consisted of pairing up with someone to practice “the Great Compassion.” I picked a guy I had avoided because for some reason I didn't like him. Joanna told us to sit next to each other and gaze into each other's eyes. It felt pretty awkward to look into the eyes of someone I didn't particularly like.
Then she said with great gentleness: “Everyone has a secret, something so painful we have never shared it with anyone in the world. We carry this painful secret with us. As you look into the eyes of your partner, remember that he or she is also carrying this painful secret. Look at him and feel the great compassion that unites you in your suffering.”
As she spoke, I saw tears welling up in the eye of the man I disliked. And my eyes were also welling up with tears. We both knew Joanna had touched a chord. After this exercise, we were able to be much friendlier to each other....
To translate this experience into Christian terms, we are all sinners, all broken, all in need of God's grace and healing. When we recognize and acknowledge that reality, healing can begin. We can risk loving ourselves, and others, as we truly are.
Jesus came to give “sight to the blind,” and he meant this in many senses. He gave sight to those who are literally blind. He also offered to give sight to those, like the Pharisees--like those of us who are religious leaders--who refuse to look at their lives honestly. The Pharisee were so caught up in being “righteous” and “doing the right thing” they didn't look inward, didn't see the corruption within, or how their obsession with rules and “salvation through works” was hurting others. They didn't see their complicity in a system of violence that traumatized people spiritually and psychologically as well as physically.
When Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath, some religious leaders reacted with murderous rage instead of awe at God's grace. Why? Was it because they, too, needed to be healed, needed to see the skeletons in their closets, the trauma they experienced in their past, that was literally driving them crazy? Were the religious leaders who reacted with rage also victims? Did they have parents who traumatized them, perhaps by taking the Law too literally, using the rod too violently in order to avoid spoiling the child?
Why did Jesus insist we must become as little children if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
I confess I have often interpreted this sentimentally: we must regain our child-like innocence. It’s true: we need to reclaim that joy. But what if Jesus meant we also must return to the vulnerability and pain of our children so we can empathize with others?
Jesus himself suffered as a child. Stephen Mitchell in his fascinating book "The Gospel According to Jesus" makes the case that Jesus's mother was suspected of being unfaithful and that this was  deeply traumatizing to Jesus. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus's family had to go into exile because of the murderous rage of a Jewish king. Imagine how painful it must have been to be Jewish refugee in Egypt, the land where Jews had been slaves. Jesus left Egypt to live in another undesirable area—Galilee--far from “holy city” of Jerusalem, and not far from where the Romans crucified hundreds of Jews for rebelling. As a child, Jesus saw first-hand the horrors of empire.
When Jesus said, we must become a child or be born again, he didn't mean it would be easy. To become a child means, among other things, to relive the pain of one's childhood and to experience the world through a child’s eyes. Why would Jesus ask us to return to that vulnerable state of childhood unless he wanted us learn how dependent we are on God's grace, and on each other?
Let me close this reflection with a prayer:
Loving and gracious God, I am grateful to you for letting me “open the closet” of my past and gaze at what has been most traumatic in my life. I trust in your grace and am confident that, no matter how deep the pain, truth will set me free and your love brings healing.
Let us pray for the children of Gaza, and those in our own nation and around the world who are traumatized. God help us to help these wounded children, including hurt child in ourselves.

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