Healing and Hope: Carol Howard Merritt’s Healing Spiritual Wounds

Post Author: Mindi Welton-Mitchell

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Unlike Carol Howard Merritt, I grew up in a small, progressive American Baptist congregation. In my church life, I grew up in a place that invited questions, encouraged me to pursue deeper meaning, and embraced me wholly as I was created.

However, I also attended church camp. I loved camp, and it helped shape my faith and taught me about relationship with Jesus Christ. But the church camp I attended was staffed by Christian counselors who came from more fundamentalist congregations. They came from belief systems that upheld patriarchal roles and were concerned with saving souls before camp ended on Saturday morning, and the best way to do that was to make us feel that we needed to be saved before we returned home. The jagged knife of Scripture was used to create wounds that declared that I was a sinner, in a way that made it seem very shameful, that I had done something purposefully bad to separate myself from God; that because my hormones were going wild as a teenager, I had fallen short of God’s perfection. I wasn’t good enough. I had to be saved by Friday night or I might not go to heaven.

I was healed through good preaching, fellowship, and friends in college. I experienced further healing in seminary as I began to learn about the historical and cultural context of those scriptures, the same verses my camp counselors had used but hadn’t understood themselves.

Healing Spiritual Wounds is a book for all Christians (not only those who have come out of a fundamentalist background) because all of us have been harmed at one time or another by churches or church institutions that failed us. Maybe it wasn’t fundamentalist teaching that highlighted individual faults and flaws, but a Sunday School teacher who struggled with addiction or abuse, or a pastor or other leader whose misuse of Scripture struck a nerve that still stings.

Carol weaves in experiences, from her own life and others, where abuse and harm occurred in the church or by church institutions, and how she found healing. Each chapter explores a different aspect of healing and reclaiming part of ourselves that may have been broken or lost. Each chapter ends with suggested exercises, prompts for writing, journaling, and meditation.

I was pleasantly surprised by the chapter “Reclaiming Our Broken Selves,” when Carol encouraged finding a new metaphor for our own image. I have participated in exercises since seminary in finding a new image for God, a new metaphor to use, to heal from harmful, domineering images—but it never occurred to me to reclaim or find a new metaphor for my own image. Suddenly I recalled, as I read that chapter, of all the verses I had to memorize at camp, such as Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Instead, I hope to internalize Genesis 1, in which God created humankind—male and female—in God’s image, and declares that creation is good. I am created in God’s image, and I am good.

Regardless of religious background, almost everyone I know has a negative association with money. The chapter “Reassessing Our Finances” offered a breath of fresh air. Many of my peers are caught in a similar situation as myself, having taken out loans for college or graduate school, and having entered into a profession that doesn’t always pay enough to repay those loans. Now, having a child of our own, having had to move much sooner after buying a house than we planned and taking a financial loss—we feel as if we have failed. There is such shame associated with financial loss and struggles. Reading this chapter, and Carol’s insights on how sharing in our suffering can help us to overcome shame, reminded me that I am not alone, and how healing can be found in community, in sharing our struggles.

Healing Spiritual Wounds is a book every pastor should have on their shelf. I know I will refer to it when a congregant comes to me, dealing with some of the wounds inflicted by the church and church-related institutions. It is a book many counselors should have on their shelves, offering practices and exercises to help with the healing process. And it is a book that any of us who have experienced any level of harm or spiritual abuse, at any time in our lives, can read to find healing and hope.

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is an ordained American Baptist pastor serving a congregation in the Seattle area. She blogs at https://rev-o-lution.org on the Revised Common Lectionary, writes science fiction and fantasy, is married to a Disciples of Christ minister and is a mother of a child with autism.

Image by: HarperOne and Studio Gearbox
Used with permission
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