Healing Spiritual Wounds

an interview with Carol Howard Merritt

Have you ever been wounded by a church, or do you know someone who has been?

Have you ever wished you had the right book on your shelf, something solid and helpful you could read and pass along?

That book is finally here! It is destined to become a classic.

Carol Howard Merritt’s book is called: Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

I am privileged to call Carol a friend. We labored together in a writing group, and I know firsthand that she has mastered her craft. What’s more, she has wisdom, theological depth and ministry experience. I believe her book will help many, so I was thrilled to write an endorsement:

Carol Howard Merritt gently unspools the tightly wound messages of shame and guilt that strangle spirits and cause damage to body, soul and relationships. Merritt shows the reader how to unfurl into the open space of God’s great love. An invaluable tool for faith leaders and healers of all types.”

There is so much I could say about this book! But I thought it would be more useful to let Carol say a few words. Especially note the three target audiences she lists at the bottom. Are you in one of those audiences? I am.

RUTH: Spiritual wounds are a very tender topic. Why did you decide to write this book? Was there a particular event that was the genesis of this project?

CAROL: There are many things that I could point to—events that spurred this book. I think that most writers, preachers, philosophers, or theologians have a core story that we revisit. We tell the same narrative, over and over again. If we’re clever, we switch up the characters and invent new settings, but we’re still working out that same tension in a fresh drama.

My story is rooted in the fact that religion is a place that wounds and heals. And as a minister, I would hear that tension echoed again and again. A pastor told a wife to stay in a marriage that was abusive. A priest molested a young man. A soldier heard the rhetoric of “God and country” so often that he didn’t know how to make sense of his PTSD. A woman believed that God blessed us with wealth, and felt abandoned by God when she had to face a foreclosure on her home. When these events occurred, we weren’t able to fully heal from them until we could locate the spiritual rift, recognize it, and tend to it.

RUTH: You write from a very personal place. What were some of the things you learned about yourself and others by writing memoir?

Years ago, I met Mickey Maudlin, Executive Editor at HarperOne. As I introduced myself, I mentioned that I had once gone to Moody Bible Institute and now I was a liberal pastor. He responded with an unfocused look at the upper corner of the room, and mumbled, “That sounds like an interesting story.” It was probably a simple nicety, but I’ve always had great respect for Mickey, so that was all the motivation I needed. I started writing down my story that day.

Then, each morning, I would give myself a good old-fashioned eye roll and think, You’re not famous enough, or accomplished enough, or old enough to look back on your life. Who do you think you are?

As the months wore on, writing the pages gave me the opportunity to sit down with my mom, sister, and brother and talk with them about topics that had always been too taboo or too painful to face. I had an excuse to ask a non-judgmental “why.” The process allowed me to enter into my family’s characters and understand them in a way that I haven’t been able to otherwise.

And I learned something from you—since we were both writing memoir at the same time. I learned to have compassion on myself. On an ordinary day, I look back on my own history and wonder, How could I have ever believed that? How could I have been so stupid? I can easily become ashamed or embarrassed of my past. Writing this allowed me to embrace who I was and love that person.

Before I wrote Healing Spiritual Wounds, I thought that writing memoir would be a self-indulgent, narcissistic exercise. But now I think everyone should write one, whether it gets published or not.

RUTH: The topic of spiritual wounds is wide-ranging. I can imagine many audiences for this book. Can you identify 3 (or more) specific audiences whom you hope will pick up this book?

~ People who grew up Evangelical. Since I came from a conservative background, I assume that the stories will resonate most with people who have had similar experiences of being disillusioned by evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is such a strong force in this country, and the fact that 80% of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, left a lot of people concerned about the racism, sexism, and homophobia complicit in their faith. They suddenly feel rootless and without a home.

~ Church leaders. As I have been working with the material more, I also notice church leaders who work with people who have been hurt by faith communities. Or pastors have been wounded. Church leaders have always been focus for my writing. So, I structured the book in a format that people could work through, pulling from different sources of wisdom for exercises.

~ Armchair theologians. I also wanted the book to be an accessible introduction to feminist theology. I often read smart people who are working through some really difficult theological matters, and they don’t quite have the right tools to do it. More progressive theology might be out of reach for people who can’t go to seminary. I know that I was so beautifully transformed through studying various theologies, I’m hoping to introduce people to some of the basics I learned from studying feminist, womanist, and liberationist theologians.

It’s a beautiful hardbound edition which you can order at any online retailer. The Amazon link is here. Quantity discounts available at 800ceoread. You can also read the first chapter for free at Carol’s website.

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I'm a Presbyterian pastor and the author of two spiritual memoirs. RUINED was named a "2017 Book of the Year" by Christianity Today.