Goldfields Wounds fallen tree

From the Goldfields

God-Talk: Wounds

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The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields

The storm passed through a week ago. The tree is still standing, but there is a big branch on the ground. Torn from the trunk by high winds, its leaves are turning rapidly from leathery grey-green to brittle brown. We call tree branches “limbs,” and indeed this is like a body that has been dismembered in battle with the elements, a limb wrenched off, leaving a huge scar that will mark the tree for life.

A closer look at the scar is telling. The wind alone was not responsible for the damage. The branch was weakened by something – insects, rot, fungus, perhaps an awkward growth angle that deprived the limb of its normal flexibility and resilience. Now even the healthy wood fibres are splintered and torn. And it is an open wound, inviting the next invasion of hungry beetles or drifting fungal spores.

Maybe the tree will recover from this wound, covering its broken skin with tough scar tissue and growing up proudly asymmetrical, a landmark in the bush. But maybe, weakened before the storm and devastated after it, the tree will sicken and die. For a while, its dead timber will provide nesting hollows for small birds. Then it will tumble to the ground and wait for termites or fire to return it to the earth.

We are all bearers of spiritual scars. Life has been relatively gentle with some of us. Our scars are blemishes that have mostly healed over, leaving us sadder, wiser, and less likely to believe ourselves bullet-proof.

For others, the damage has been devastating and the results more confronting. Childhood trauma heaps shame and fear on a small person, limiting their growth ever after. Illness or accident robs a young person of social and physical experiences that their age-mates sail through, barely aware of their privilege. Extraordinary pain, inflicted by serious betrayal or malice or violence, challenges the survivor’s capacity to rebound from later accidents and insults such as come up in every life.

If I can imagine the trauma to a tree dismembered by a windstorm, surely I can muster empathy for the people I meet who are carrying such scars in heart and mind, and sometimes in body.

The Body of Christ has its wounds, too. They are the evidence of past sin and failure, of ordained leaders who harmed the Body by neglect or ego or abuse, of lay leaders who valued control over kindess, or for whom fear of the unknown is paralysing. A church community may be able to recover and go on, braver for its scars, wiser for its experience, finding new ways to grow around the wound. Sometimes, though, it may not recover. Weakened, it cannot grow. Not all wounds lead to death; but some do.

As Christians, we bring our wounds, great and small, to the cross of Christ. His suffering is God’s solidarity with our pain. His wounds did lead to death, and then, astonishingly, to resurrection. And, wonderfully, by his wounds we are healed.

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