Stories that Heal – 2
This is a review of The Spirituality of Imperfection – Storytelling and the Journey to Wholeness by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham (Bantam Books, 1994), written by Steve Simpson, a Healing Journey course leader.
This follows on from the Stories that Heal blog post.
Storytelling is an integral part of the Healing Journey, with group leaders and participants sharing favourite readings that both illuminate and perhaps leaven the intensity of the exercises and self-exploration undertaken. The Spirituality of Imperfection provides a clear well-argued context for the use of story in healing work, whilst offering an original approach to understanding spirituality, embracing human limitation and failings: “the search for spirituality”, the authors state “ is, first of all, a search for reality, for honesty, for true speaking and true thinking”.
Stories help us approach this ‘reality’, not just by illustrating the challenges encountered on life’s path, but through the very act of story-telling itself: in sharing and witnessing our own stories we find that we are not alone in our suffering; edge towards a sense of community; and get to see our lives, struggles and triumphs, within the context of what Jean Houston calls ‘Great Story’, the unfolding collective journey.
For me, though, the chief joy of this book is the stories themselves, taken from an extensive range of spiritual and cultural traditions. These tales – funny, poignant, ironic, compassionate and wise – show us what is to be both a human and spiritual being, suffering the gap between our aspirations and reality.
Rabbi Zusya said, ‘In the coming world, they won’t ask me: why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ (The Spirituality of Imperfection,’ p2)
This is not, directly, a book about confronting serious illness. It draws heavily on the teaching of the Twelve Step Program, which whilst having been transformative for some in tackling addiction, is seen by others as too prescriptive and restrictive. Regardless of its tenets, the principal methodology of Twelve Step, the sharing, hearing and witnessing of each other’s stories of personal ‘imperfection’, within community, demonstrate the power of storytelling to facilitate healing – if, by ‘healing’, we mean becoming more whole, opening to acceptance of and compassion for our limitations.
This is developed in the initial section of the book, ‘Experiencing spirituality’, which focuses on themes that will be familiar to Healing Journeyers: release, gratitude, humility, tolerance, tolerance, forgiveness and what the authors call ‘Being-at-home’.
Pain, with its intense message of ‘unfittingness’ moves us to move on in our pilgrimage, to seek new ways of fitting into our own being and into the community of other (imperfect) beings. (The Spirituality of Imperfection’, p231)
I would highly recommend The Spirituality of Imperfection to anyone seeking to find meaning in suffering or who, like me, just loves a good story!