Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On healing and being broken

I'm thinking about the symbolism of Christian baptism in the context of healing. Christians, of course, believe that we are born sinful beings and that we have to be cleansed of sin. Baptism - pouring water from a sacred font onto a child's head, speaking words of blessing, and marking the child's forehead with the sign of the cross - is the cleansing. One interpretation is that we are born of woman, of blood and sex, children of the earth, and we have to be cleansed of those sins in order to join the heavenly kingdom of God. Our suffering in life is a measure of our sin and our distance from God.

Needless to say, Pagans don't believe that shit.

However, many Wiccans, at least, emphasize healing ourselves and the earth. One one level this is uncontroversial. We've done great harm to the planet and thus to ourselves, and we need to repair that harm. Also, illness is a regular event in human life, and healing is a way of bringing the body back into alignment. We want to heal, to be healthy. That's normal. And Witches don't take a mechanistic view of the human body. Healing, for us, involves much more than ameliorating symptoms or ridding the body of disease. We also speak of healing psyche and spirit and energy, and we use various methods, many unconventional, to heal ourselves and others.

Witches are also often influenced by New Age ideas about healing. Thus we may work with chakras or energy healing, visualization and affirmation. This syncretism and blend of old and new ideas and techniques provide fertile ground for exploring healing in the broadest sense. But I worry that the idea that we all always need healing, that healing is an on-going process, that we are all healing old wounds, whether from childhood or ancestors or past lives - I worry that this way of thinking about healing implies the assumption that we're all sick or broken. And that doesn't sound so different from the idea that we're born in sin and need to be redeemed. Do we unwittingly model some of our ideas about healing on a Christian model that we mean to reject?

Protestant culture teaches an ideal of perfectibility along with belief in progress. We understand that not so much on a cultural level - how can we improve our communities and nations? - as on an individual level: how can I best lose weight, stop smoking, save money, meet the right person, fashion my lifestyle, etc., ad nauseam? We live with a belief in the future, that things will be better and that we can make them better. The idea of infinite perfectibility presupposes that we always fall short, that we can always be better, that we're always imperfect and need to be working to improve.

Can we go about our healing work without also believing that we're always sick or imperfect and that we need to be fixed? How might we develop a model of healing borne out of acceptance of the way things are? How do we reconcile the idea of seeking wholeness with the truth that we are already whole? (Or are we not already whole?) Next week I will explore these questions further.


Lisa said...

Good to have you back, Inanna. Very moved by this post. Although I stepped away from Christianity years ago, and now study Buddhism and Paganism, you are right about the difficulties in breaking away from the dominant religous culture's symbolism. Buddhist symbols/art don't speak to me as I was not raised with a deep understanding of them. And I'm not sure I truly know what a Pagan/Wiccan system of symbols includes other than the pentagram -which has taken much effort for me to disassociate from the sign of the Devil. I was not raised in a particularly religious family, but did suffer protestant church indoctrination as a child. Simply living in America, no matter if you're religious or not - the christian/patriarchal myths and symbols feed everything here - it is difficult not to be shaped by them.
I struggle very much with this ideal of perfectionism and progress. Thank you for the conversation you have begun here. I look forward to more. I plan to link to this post from my own web log.

margaritaspirit said...

I have the same problem with happiness often. How can I strive to be happy while simultaneously recognizing that I already am? What's the point of aiming for happiness if I already have it? Or am I really not happy?

Journeys for answers have been fairly frustrating. "Just do it" is one I hear a lot. Mostly I try to remember that this, no matter what else it may be, is living.

And just to add, I recently found your blog and look forward to reading more entries in the future.

Happiness and Healing and all those wonderful things we sort of already have!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, something I'm dong a lot of thinking on myself. I linked this post to my journal. Joyful Moon

Sojourner said...

A very thoughful post.

It reminds me of how the different schools of psychology approach mental health. Where the newer school of transpersonal psych focuses on the whole person and bringing a balance to life, most older schools have focused on the "sick" mind. The difference is that some of these older schools (think Freud) believe that the sick mind can not be healed.

In reference to your post, I don't think healing work needs to denote "fixing" but that it can be seen as a way to bring the body and mind back into a natural balance where the parts work together as a whole.

I look forward to your future posts on this subject.

Athana said...

"Do we unwittingly model some of our ideas about healing on a Christian model that we mean to reject?"

I think we probably model much of our behavior on the Christian model -- the model we think we're rejecting. Our descendants will be able to see this better than we can, and will correct our course through succeeding generations. But we're making a start, and that's terrific.