Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) transports me to the good old pre-mp3 and pre-CD days of the vinyl LP, when people scoured record stores and collected those amazing albums with music pressed into the grooves and with awesome artwork adorning the cover. One of the phenomena that came out of this era was an event called the vinyl gathering, which was basically a party where everyone brought a favorite record. The attendees would sit around drinking some variety of vintage grape, with each one taking a turn playing something selected from the album they brought. A friend of mine, Julie, shared an experience she and her husband David had hosting one of these vinyl gatherings. It was a January evening in 1979 and Julie had chosen a classic album from the Grammy-winning duo of Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack. The song she chose to play for everyone was Come Ye Disconsolate, a great old hymn. The Hammond organ set the gospel blues tone and Roberta slowly brought the melody line in, Come ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish. Donny followed with the next line, Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel. Together they continued with a tight harmony, Here bring your wounded hearts, here bring your anguish. Later that very evening, Julie remembers a television news anchor reading the tragic headline that Donny Hathaway had taken his own life. What a disturbing piece of news, revealing the anguish of a gospel artist who was not able to experience the gospel truth of the song he so beautifully interpreted.
The apostle Paul set a bluesy tone in his second letter to the Corinthian church; it is a correspondence filled with pathos and anguish, but it encouraged a depth of community where troubles and comforts were shared and shared alike. If many hands make light work, then many hearts lighten the load of suffering. The passage tells us that Christ’s suffering – literally meaning that which he had to bear and endure and carry – is part of our life stream. But if the trouble river flows, we are also told that the current of Christ’s comfort overflows. And we are to be part of that comfort, for each other. The Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen wrote an insightful book about this idea, called The Wounded Healer. Nouwen understood that nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not, How can we hide our wounds? so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but, How can we employ our wounded-ness in the service of others? When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
I don’t know the details of Donny Hathaway’s life or faith or the cause of his deep despair, but I have often wondered how much of his pain was privately held. His choice to end his life, like every other similar choice people in pain have made, shows clearly that there is suffering in this world too heavy for one person to endure. I wonder if he had been able to open his wounds to a community of wounded healers, if the comfort of Christ would have indeed overflowed in his life. We can only hope so, and in that hope, may we all have the strength to share our sufferings and share in the overflowing comfort that Christ offers, lest the burdens of the world become too heavy to bear. May we be firm and unshaken in the belief born out in the final grooves of the blues hymn: earth hath no sorrow, that heaven cannot heal.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Healing.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.