Healing and Hope: Carol Howard Merritt’s Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church

(I wrote this review for The Young Clergywomen’s Project)

Unlike Carol Howard Merritt, I grew up in a small, progressive American Baptist congregation. I felt that 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. And 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. That because my hormones were going wild as a teenager, I had fallen short of the image of God. I wasn’t good enough. I had to be saved by Friday night or I might not go to heaven.

Healing happened through good preaching, fellowship, and friends in college, and 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, 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.

Each chapter explores a different aspect of healing and reclaiming. 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 was reminded, 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.

Even if one didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist church or have any experience with the negative images of God or self, almost everyone I know at some point 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, having entered into a profession that doesn’t always pay enough to repay those loans—and 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 reminded me that not only am I not alone, but it also helped me to let go of some of the feelings of shame and guilt that surround finances.

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 can read to find healing and hope, even years after these events have occurred.

Healing Spiritual Wounds is available at bookstores everywhere. Here is the link to Amazon to purchase.

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One Response to Healing and Hope: Carol Howard Merritt’s Healing Spiritual Wounds

  1. Mike says:

    I look forward to obtaining a copy of this book as a source of healing for myself and others. Your review made me want to obtain this resource. Thank you. I am glad that you have found healing in your journey.

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