Prayer and the Quest for Healing

On November 10, 2012, over 80 Sisters and Associates from around the Cincinnati Area gathered at the Centennial Barn for a retreat presented by Sister Barbara Fiand, SNDdeN. Sponsored by the SFP Associates, Prayer and the Quest for Healing began with Joan Mills' introduction of Sr. Barbara, followed by Sr. Joanne Schuster's anointing her – and all the assembled participants blessing her!

 Sr. Barbara Fiand giving the Associate-Sister retreat Sr. Barbara Fiand giving the Associate-Sister retreat With such a beginning, how could the day be anything less than inspiring? Sr. Barbara divided the day into three segments: one on wounds and woundedness acknowledged, the second on healing and its processes, and the third on forgiveness, in all its aspects – with perhaps the greatest amount of time being spent on wounds, our need to recognize them and their origins. The following is a summary of what we learned during this retreat.

The Wounds
Sr. Barbara began with a discussion of ‘original sin’, and its meaning for us as members of the human family and as individuals. (see Illustration). Original sin, instead of being inherited through our parents’ sexual pleasure in the act of procreation, might today best be seen as having to do with the human condition, with the build-up of negativity through the ages due to the human abuse of freedom that affects all of us  (collective behavior patterns or “morphic resonance”)  which we can enhance through our own negative behavior. Original sin can be understood, therefore, as a general, shared state of being that gives rise to the cultural, racial and gender sins of patriarchy, homophobia, prejudice, gynophobia, and slavery. These wounds, in turn, can give rise to the sins of our country or our people which, in turn, bring about more wars, genocides, imperialism, slavery and poverty.

Thinking about this was pretty heavy. It became even heavier and more personal when we considered our ancestral and family sins: violence, alcoholism, incest, and oppression. This is our negative psychic heritage; then we reflected on our own, personal, conscious negative behaviors and experiences – even those we have repressed or forgotten. We learned that our Baptism can be cleansing and healing from all this. It would seem that sin – even personal sin -- is not so much an act, as it is a state of being: our personal negative experiences lead us to take on patterns of oppression from which personal sin emerges. Participants bless Sr. Barbara Participants bless Sr. Barbara

One of the more interesting examples of personal woundedness seeking healing arises very early in life out of a natural narcissistic need.  As newborns all of us experience an intense hunger to be loved, which in the simplest form refers to all of our natural needs (food, comfort, warmth, acceptance, safety, stimulation, appreciation, affection, reassurance).

The child’s unconscious, immediate question is: “Am I important to you? Am I loved by you?” And many, many things can interfere with the parents’ ability to respond positively to that need: they may be too young, too poor, and too busy? They may have too many children, too close together? The child may be one of twins, triplets etc.? There is war or tragedy? Parents may be alcoholic, addicts, or abusers.

Participants enjoy continental breakfast Participants enjoy continental breakfast The child’s need to be loved in its initial years of development is normal and to be expected.  Psychologists suggest that if not met (narcissistic deprivation), it can in fact never be replaced.  It is suggested that the resulting wound to the child produces a narcissistic disorder which often first manifests itself as the growing child’s inordinate desire to be noticed and praised, usually by becoming a ‘convenient child’: one who does everything she/he can to please the parent. Occasionally, also, the child rebels instead. At any rate, many narcissistically deprived children end up, not surprisingly, in the helping professions. But no matter how much the narcissistically deprived person helps others, he/she can never replace what was not provided in childhood. Even if they recognize the problem, the search for parental love and the need to be loved unconditionally never goes away.

The Healing
Unconditional love (the mother love that was not given when it first was needed) is, as we all know, rare, if even possible, once you become adults. Therefore, especially if we are unaware of our narcissistic disorder – and occasionally even if we are aware of it, we can find ourselves heaping unreasonable expectations on our friends or spouses. To heal – and this usually is a very slow, painful, and repetitive process – one must be helped to:

  •     Voice the pain and mourn the loss, often over and over again,
  •     Admit the wound, and then release it: “I have a narcissistic disorder, but it no longer has me,”
  •     Learn to recognize the disordered desire when it creeps into one’s expectations, smile at it and then forgive oneself.
For this, or for any other disorder, it may be helpful to remember that we do not heal ourselves, but that God heals us as we place ourselves consciously into God’s presence and God’s energy enters us and changes us. Retreat themes:  Woundedness, Meaning of Healing, Forgiveness Retreat themes: Woundedness, Meaning of Healing, Forgiveness

One way to make healing possible is to spend time in prayer for our own healing without feeling selfish. When we enter God’s field, all the mystics tell us, that we not only are changed by this, but we also become conductors of God’s energy – sending God’s healing outward, both consciously and unconsciously. We should never feel guilty about praying for our own healing: we can and do change our society and our world by sitting in prayer and changing ourselves.  Healing is redemption. Healing is peace.  Healing is gradual liberation from the desire for sin. It doesn’t necessarily remove the disorder, but it creates a disposition that no longer allows us to abuse ourselves, and others. Healing is a process that eventually removes the devastating effects of sin and helps one develop distaste for abuse and a growth in self-respect as well as respect for others. Eventually the desire not to abuse becomes stronger than the yearning for satisfaction. The original wound, as such, may not be ‘healed’, but we have learned how to deal with it and its crippling effects. In this we also find wisdom: we have lived and healed and learned – and so we have learned to have compassion for others (and for ourselves).

Joan Mills, Director of Associates, introduces Sr. Barbara Joan Mills, Director of Associates, introduces Sr. Barbara Forgiveness
If redemption is healing, then the outcome is forgiveness. Even when we see our faults, we can forgive ourselves. Forgiveness is a religious act because we cannot do it without God. Perhaps forgiveness can be best understood when we see it as restoring another (or restoring ourselves) to a rightful place in our hearts. Forgiveness requires that we let go of any demands, any reprisals, and any repayment. Thus we are willing and able to interact with the other (or with ourselves) with kindness, respect and courtesy. We can only pray for the grace to forgive. It cannot be forced. If you try to force forgiveness in yourself, you may quite likely see the offense in another and project your anger on some unsuspecting person.

An Exercise in Healing of Memories
To proceed on this path, you need the willingness and the honesty to confront yourself at the right time and in the right circumstances. Forgive yourself for your denial for so long – and also for not even wanting to pray for the grace to forgive someone who has injured you. And remember, forgiveness is always from God! To begin to heal your memories:

Divide your life into sections,  roughly into decades.
Ask God for protection and surround yourself with Light.

Start with the most recent decade (if you are 60, then look at the decade from 50 to 60), and ask God gently to surface any memories that are in need of healing – when you have inflicted pain on someone, or someone has inflicted pain on you. In a decade’s time you undoubtedly will find more than one instance, but deal with them one at a time. As they surface, do not dwell on them or try to justify them. Simply accept that they occurred.

Hold each situation up to God, surround each person (yourself included) with God’s Light, and then let it go!
Do this with each instance, in each decade until you reach birth – and then start over again .

Understand that it’s never over, and do not get discouraged even if you have to do it over and over again. No wound is healed with the first application of medicine.  So it is with spiritual wounds as well.

We stopped periodically throughout the day to engage in guided mediation. Sr. Barbara also recommended a number of books to us:
                                                     Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child
                                                     Eben Alexander III, MD’s Proof of Heaven
                                                     Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying
                                                     Theodore Dobson’s How to Pray for Spiritual Growth

This retreat was a profound experience, interspersed with prayer, good food, and great companionship.

Associate Leah Curtin

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