Radio 4 Thought For The Day, 16 Nov 2013

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[You can listen here]

However chilly it feels to us in the UK at the moment, it’s nothing compared to the icy temperatures experienced by Prince Harry who recently spent the night in a freezer. This army training facility exposed him to temperatures of minus 35 degrees and icy winds of 45 miles per hour. It was part of his preparation for the Walking With The Wounded fundraising expedition, where he’ll journey 200 miles with wounded service men and women across Antarctica. The Prince and his team-mates fly out of the UK tomorrow and in his own words, their goal centres around “one cause: to raise awareness of all the wounded, sick and injured, whether in military or civilian life”.

Despite this campaign and others like it, raising awareness about woundedness and suffering remains counter-cultural. Society rarely encourages the revealing of our brokenness, whether in body, heart or mind. Marketing messages from billboards and magazines shout loudly that we should a present a Photoshopped version of ourselves; permanently flawless, happy and successful. As a result, our wounds, whatever form they may take, can feel like something we should hide. It creates a culture where people feel ever-more pressure to perform; to polish the shiny veneer of a seemingly wonderful life, rather than reveal the struggles beneath.

In contrast to this, a man who was refreshingly honest about his doubts, fears and short-comings was Catholic writer and priest Henri Nouwen. He offers a gritty, straight-talking perspective, accepting that pain is an ever-present reality. Yet he argues that far from disqualifying us, our frailty and scars are the very thing that most qualify us to love, serve and contribute to others.
In his book, the Wounded Healer, Nouwen describes brokenness as the primary place from which we can offer healing to those around us. Our scars become the meeting point where shared humanity connects. With a resounding crash, the veneer of pretence is shattered when we admit that we need help; that we are not OK; or when we sit in shared silence with others as they grieve and whisper “me too”. By welcoming people into our places of suffering, he believed that our experiences with loneliness, depression, and fear could somehow become a gift to help others.

Henri Nouwen set a domino effect in motion among his readers – by becoming radically transparent with them, he enabled them to in turn to be radically transparent with others. Perhaps this counter-cultural movement of vulnerability could silence the drone of the marketeers, with their elusive and crushing goals of Photoshopped perfection. Thankfully, in order to be loved and to love others well, the requirement is not to be flawless, but rather to share scars and tears with courage, and find in doing so that brokenness can be beautiful.