How do we heal?
What can the Sacred Arts teach us about healing?
As long as we greet difficult times and crises with the traditional “thoughts and prayers are with you” response, we have an obligation to express exactly how thoughts and prayers lead not just to action – which is the typical battle cry – but lead to deep, lasting, enduring healing.
How delicate we truly are becomes apparent when we consider not only the vast expanse of the universe we live in, but the tide the pressures, and even the dangers, of daily life.
Blaise Pascal, so long ago, trembled in complete terror at the the infinite without and the infinite within. Everything fixed dissolves. We are but fragile reeds, all too easily crushed by forces both external and internal.
That we can be hurt and that we are vulnerable in so many ways – body, mind and heart, even in ways we often aren’t always prepared to admit – cannot be denied, though it is popular to try, to claim loudly that all is well and proclaim “peace, peace” when in fact there is no peace.
While recognizing this fact of our existence – that we all have experienced wounds, that we all know what it means to feel broken – while acknowledging and even honoring it, the Sacred Arts perspective holds this knowledge in balance. Our struggles are one part of our stories; not the whole of them.
This is is what the Sacred Arts teach us. Take any practice of meditation or prayer, rituals and ceremony, any devotion to the movements of the body and spirit, any use of divination and folk practices of magic or storytelling. Look at Tarot or Astrology – for example – and consider the stories being told there, the situations unfolding.
Here is what you will find: just as we are delicate in ways we may not be totally willing to admit, we are also tougher and more resilient in ways that we also aren’t always prepared to admit, or in ways that we simply have a hard time seeing. There are possibilities – choices – we haven’t yet imagined, potentialities waiting for us in real life, here and now, like those newly discovered rooms and places that many of us come upon in our night time dreams.
We would like nothing more than to realize this about ourselves – that we are tough and tender, that we are broken and blessed – not either/or but both/and, and yet, it is so very difficult to see ourselves, to know ourselves, wholly. Much easier to flip through ideas and big abstractions, words and images, much easier to misjudge where the broken places and the blessings that emerge from them show up in our unique and particular lives.
The Sacred Arts are not treasure maps where X marks the spot, nor are they a labyrinth where there is one way in and one way out. Rather, the Sacred Arts are like the pilgrimage pathways that can be found world over – they are knowings, they are practices, they are prayers poured out straight from the soul that give us the needed support as we go about literally re-membering ourselves, re-membering all of our parts, re-membering that every wound also calls forth a medicine.
There is not “one pathway to rule them all”, not a one-size-fits-all method, but many related, complementary mutually supportive pathways, woven together by each living soul. Maybe they are woven neatly, but often they are not. The stories, songs, poems, dances, rituals, wisdom books, prayers and blessings, the clothes and fabrics and foods, the architectural dwellings, the divinations and the magical ways and means, all serve to help us make those discoveries for ourselves, in our own time, out of our own raw and direct experiences of life – and this is what, at bottom, matters most.
That is to say – it is not “thoughts and prayers” that matter so much. It is your thoughts and your prayers, and their ‘metabolism’ within the horizon of your own life that matters. The specific ways you think and the ways that you act on those thoughts. The ways that you pray (with a reminder here that prayer was never meant to be uttered in an abstract, passive and impersonal voice). When understood in this way, your thoughts and your prayers are part of the blessing that come out of your particular wound. They are part of your medicine, and we are all a little bit more healed when they are shared. The actions that come from them inspire and help others find their own way.
Hearts heal differently than bodies. This shouldn’t surprise us because our mind and heart follow somewhat different pathways than our beautiful bodies do. This difference is precisely what makes ‘heart and soul’ healing so difficult to achieve – especially if we are locked into a single way of looking at the healing process, abstracting from the physiological processes of the body. It is why, when I write about healing, I also write about wholeness and holiness – they need to be kept together.
It is also why so many of our collective efforts so often come down to so many unsatisfying remedies and palliatives that never work – rationalistic ten step programs and three steps to happiness. We’re groping in the dark here. Mystery does not operate according to blue prints and soul tends to ignore the best laid plans.
And so we run. And in our culture this often looks like forgetting. It sounds like the banal “thoughts and prayers are with the survivors” that lacks all teeth, all presence, all gravity. It looks like getting really pissed and angry and righteously indignant and then getting tired and then moving on, until the next trauma emerges, be it personal or political or global, and we go through the whole cycle again.
All too often we never stop fleeing from our private sufferings, never stop reaching out for healing in systems and life-ways far away and apart from our own – sometimes even avariciously grabbing them long before they are ever freely offered. We gain as much distance as we can from our scars and brokenness, from our raw experiences, and we learn to cover up and distract ourselves in a thousand different ways.
But, as they saying goes, you cannot outrun yourself. To flee from what hurts is also and at the same exact time to flee from what can be healed. It is a betrayal of self and soul and it does not make for easy sleep or better living. Certainly it does not make a future that knows more in the way of healing, wholeness and holiness and less in the way of suffering, brokenness, and diminishment.
Our thoughts and our prayers. The expression has become a trigger for so many because it sounds like mere pablum. And yet. When you take the time to speak to people who live close to the marrow of life, you will also find that in the deepest shadow what carries through is exactly thought and prayer – perfectly aimed, correctly tuned, full of fierce passion and deep wisdom. What can illuminate our way so that we have more of the second and less of the first?
We might turn to the image of the Sacred Heart for help. Here we have the familiar heart symbol, but there is a fountain of fire pluming from within the heart’s division, the heart itself is encircled with lines of radiance, with barbed wire, with rose thorns, or sometimes wings. When we see it in its radiant glory, we may easily forget that the shine and radiance is that of a heart and spirit that has been to hell and back.
In image and imagination, every possible wound has been inflicted on the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart speaks to the scarred heart, pierced by a thousand swords, cut by a thousand pieces of glass, wrapped in rusty barbed wire and a crown of thorns; and sometimes, at first, we think that those scars are something to hide from the world, something to keep quiet, to keep covered up. In our modern parlance it has been dragged down, shot up, bruised, dented, banged around in all manner of ways and yet…still keeps on ticking.
Where does it get all that power from? From what or where does it arise?
See for yourself. Sacred Heart speaks also to the scared heart, afraid because we know we can be harmed, frightened of our worst dreams coming true, scared that the wounds we are asked to face cannot ever, really, be healed. Experiencing the traumas to body and spirit that cut so deep, the ideas that bind us to a limited view of life and love, the habits that keep us from not just living life, but living life well, we are afraid that we will only ever be broken.
Sacred, scarred, and scared heart teaches us this then: the way to strengthen your thoughts and prayers into something real, something lasting, something that actually will bring healing is nothing more than to really learn to bear witness to what is broken, in the full knowledge that the blessing can and will be found.
Not either/or but both/and.
Buddhist traditions (like all spiritual traditions) also have their own Sacred Arts practices, and tell the same story: the radiant lotus blooming out of the muddy murky depths. The suffering of our lives and the deepest well-spring of joy and peace are not two separate realms or fundamentally different things, although they may appear to be. Our challenge is to face our own tendency to always look away, in the other direction, far away from that ‘muck’, for our joy – oh god anything but the muck! – and, in so doing, cut off the real sources of joy in our lives.
The Catholic tradition reminds us that to the Sacred Heart, what we call broken shards and scars are for it the crown jewels which bedeck and bedazzle.
And the Sacred Arts remind us that Thoughts and Prayers are not weak or insipid or pointless so long as they come from your own rich soul soil, for then they reverberate with effective power, opening blessing ways that come from within the heart of sorrow and the deepest wounds.
This is not an easy teaching, and I’m afraid many will find it hard to stomach. I would like nothing more to to tell you that there is a silver bullet formula, an easy five step program, and that when you learn magic, a simple magical spell will solve all of your problems in a flash.
Ah, but then you would never come to be reminded and to discover your own bone-deep knowing what real magic is, and that it is here, in your life, and it has been waiting for you, all along.
And if I insisted that it’s to be along a single path, why, you will have been misled along a fruitless direction and would consequently never come to know what gifts you truly do have in this life, and moreover why it is we have the Sacred Arts in the first place to lead us forward along the footprints of beauty, power, wisdom and grace towards thoughts and prayers that usher in real healing and enduring change.
In love and blessings,