I love a good story, and Carol Howard Merritt’s book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church, is full of them. But it is not just a memoir of leaving one theological tradition for another, nor is it simply an anthology of pastoral problems and solutions. The book uses the specificity of individual’s stories to draw out insights and ideas for healing a multitude of spiritual wounds that leave their mark on the soul and the body, and on the body of Christ.
Helpfully, Merritt states up front that she is “not interested in defending Christianity.” We each wound ourselves in our own way when we try to gaslight our own twisted experiences of a false gospel. Instead, Merritt is content to let God be God, and to encourage, coach, and accompany those who want to find their way back to loving God, and loving themselves into the bargain.
Neither is she interested in converting, or reconverting, those who have simply had it with God and the gospel, saying,
No doubt this works for some people, but others see the world through an irremovable religious lens. … Some of us have a spiritual or theological orientation, and to eschew that would make us incomplete.
I can definitely relate to that.
Through experiences of her own and the conversations she has had with others, Merritt addresses issues of money, sex, body image, gender and sexuality, guilt and shame, and family. Each chapter includes stories and reflections, and exercises to begin to think through some of the wounds that the reader might carry within themselves.
I’m not big on books with exercises in them, to be honest, but I did use an exercise for “healing our image of God” already with my Centering Prayer group, and it was well received. I can see using this book in my pastoral practice, not only with those who carry deep scars, but also as a way of broadening those images, and deepening connections between our stories and our image of God.
There are so many moments of connection in this book, which I think speaks to the strength of its storytelling. From the woman who had the affair, to the woman whose husband told her whole world of his own faithlessness; from the bible college dress code and its insidious misogyny to the shame of barely making ends meet; from the scars of an abusive home to the scabs of an abusive theology; I know that I will be pulling this book off my shelf often, to make those connections and reaffirm a shared experience: to say, you are not alone.
And I am ordering a second copy for that moment that I know is coming, when I need to give mine away to someone who needs to it and keep it, for the sake of their own shalom.
*Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of Carol Howard Merritt’s book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a loving God after experiencing a hurtful church (HarperOne, 2017)