Lately, I have been paying attention to negative space. Not just space where the energy is less than positive, but negative space with regard to art-
making, language, and emotional processing. Negative space focuses on what isn’t. What wasn’t. What didn’t. Wha wouldn’t. Negative space can drive us to the other extreme in all kinds of ways, sprinting away from pain into a overzealous commitment to do the opposite of the thing that scarred us deeply.
The negative space created by a wounding church or hurtful church people leaves space that aches in its emptiness. The echoing lies in the negative space speak untruths about God and about our own goodness. That echo reverberates in our lives- affecting our health, our choices, our habits, our relationships, and our faith. In order to live with this hollowness, we set up a system that feeds on the negative space. But negative space has nothing to give.
Carol Howard Merritt writes that people who are inclined toward faith will find themselves at the edge of this negative space, again and again. They long to be filled and yet the echoes of the negative spce seem too broad, too deep, and too loud to be overcome. Overcoming this pain with healing, positive truth is a real and tangible possibility. This is the premise, the structure, and the achievement of Merritt’s book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.
Within the book, Merritt shares some of her own story as well as that of others she knows. The pain of church lies, leader deceptions, and the religious idolatry of the appearance of perfection and prosperity are not the telos (end) of God’s desire for the church or for any part of creation. Resurrection and renewal as a spiritual person, in communion with God and others, is entirely possible, achievable, and worth desiring. This book teaches those lessons gently, like learning how to swim.
You don’t need to conjure God; you simply need to find ways to awake to God’s presence and deepen your connection. (61)
Beyond her gentle prose, Merritt offers clearly structured exercises for contemplation and action. Her metaphors and examples help the reader sit with pain and roll it over like a stone in the mind. As the hurtful thoughts are rolled, their sharpness slowly smoothes. Their ability to inflict pain dulls.
Merritt’s own story- with the religion of her college years, with her father, with her spiritual journey- allow the reader to see that trauma can cause physical pain, grief, illness, and long-term internal and external work. The act of helping someone else in healing can bring healing to one’s own heart, as she often demonstrates.
Toward the end of the book, Merritt writes a litany of the power of biblical women. She reclaims their stories into her own and sees their strengths as a witness to God’s love and work through women. Merritt’s awakening in this section feels very open-ended, as though she wants the reader to know that she is still healing, still discovering, still being loved by the Divine into a new fullness. And because it is happening to and for and through her, the same is true for you.
I highly recommend this book. It would, in particular, make a good Lenten reading for individuals or small groups. Take a positive step to fill negative space in your life with healing and hope. Reading this book can be that step.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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