In her new book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church (Harper One, 2017), Carol Howard Merritt tells her own story of moving from the punishing theology of her childhood to a new understanding of love, mercy and forgiveness. Yet this is not a memoir; it is a trail guide designed to help the reader make a similar journey. Recognizing our wounds allows us to undertake our healing, the healing God wants for all of us.
The Reverend Carol Howard Merritt grew up in the evangelical church. While attending Bible college, she made a turn in her theological understandings and became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Her past books, Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation (Alban/Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) and Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (Alban/Rowman and Littlefield, 2010), provided resources based in a deep understanding of cultural changes and generational shifts the mainline church seemed reluctant to acknowledge. Now she turns her gaze to the tradition that formed her, and to the injuries inflicted by a controlling, patriarchal system.
The chapters are organized around areas in our lives that might need healing from wounds inflicted by the church: our image of God, our emotions, our broken selves, our bodies, our hope, even our finances. Howard Merritt shares pieces of her personal story as well as the experiences of others whose stories illustrate each concept. At the end of every chapter, she includes exercises designed for use by individuals or groups. The exercises employ scripture, art, encounters with nature, journalling and other forms of reflection. A range of questions prompt the reader to consider and reconsider events that may have been harmful. I found the prompts to be creative, gentle, and pastoral.
I grew up in a downtown Southern Baptist church that didn’t seem to differ much from the mainline downtown churches of my childhood, and I have done a lot of psychological and spiritual work over the past thirty years. I thought, as I began reading, “This book will be a great tool for others.” As I got in deeper, I recognized the places where I learned something new years ago that I accepted intellectually, but never at the heart or gut level. Any of us who grew up influenced by the patriarchy can find some good work to do with this beautiful book.
Carol Howard Merritt is an intellectual force in the life of the 21st century church, an artist and a mystic, and a genuine example of a faithful Christian who has done and is doing her work. This book is recommended for individuals and groups, for men and women, for anyone who has been hurt by the church or wonders what people mean when they say they have been hurt by the church.
I received a free advance copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. In the interest of full disclosure, Carol’s lyrical writing may also be found in the most beautiful foreword any book has ever had, in the book I edited, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths, 2015).