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The Crumpled Heart and the Role now of Wounded Healers

Photo by Bruce Hong on Unsplash

By Philip Huggins
Oct 20, 2023


The scars from mean words and actions can last a long, long time. After the outcome of the Voice Referendum, and as the suffering in Israel and Gaza intensifies, can the choice to heal rather than to reciprocate harm take us out of a spiralling set of retaliations which just cause more suffering? Perhaps we can all learn from an exercise called the ‘Crumpled Heart’.

Next Tuesday is United Nations Foundation Day, October 24. At its inception in 1945, after the sufferings of WWII, the UN Charter sought to embody our noblest and highest human aspirations.

Foundation Day each year is an opportunity to renew these aspirations, recognising, in our common humanity, what has been obvious in the sadness of these past days. These are days that call for much sensitivity, don’t you think? I am aware personally of many multi faith and First Nation friends who are grieving and in anguish….

…There is a song about our common humanity.

We sing its sentiments in a bluesy way:

“All my favourite people are broken.. believe me, my heart should know.. we are all part saints and part sinners.. we lean on each other.. some prayers are better left unspoken.. I just want to hold you and let the rest go..”

I came back from the Parliament of World Religions with an exercise that our hearts know well..


Called the ‘Crumpled Heart Exercise’, it was designed for children but I am finding how deeply it speaks to adults now, given the impact of personal, national and international matters.

*Take a paper heart and say mean things to it as we crumple it up;

*Say sorry to the heart as we smooth it out;

*Then notice that, as we smooth it out, the crumpled lines still remain;

The poignant message of the exercise is that, even if we apologise for unkind words and actions, the heart of the one hurt may never be the same.

As we know, the scars from mean words and actions can last a long, long time. Hence, how much better it is if our subsequent words and actions don’t add to the hurt.


The better choice is to try and create healing rather than adding to the harm.

The choice to heal rather than to reciprocate harm takes us out of a spiralling set of retaliations which just cause more suffering.

As we waited for the outcome of the Referendum and as the suffering in Israel and Gaza became vivid.. I wrote about this on our Church blackboard, facing busy Bay St. Port Melbourne..

A bloke with a big hat, looking a little like Johnny Cash, came up and quoted a saying of Gandhi’s, “An eye for an eye will soon turn the whole world blind.”

When we know our hearts are wounded and we still choose to offer healing, what helps?


There is no simple formula but don’t you think it helps ourselves and others if we keep creating beauty; are truthful [certainly not intentionally deceptive] and are kind, not cruel?

UN Foundation Day coincides with a Week of Prayer for World Peace and thus this Universal Prayer:

The days ahead will be tough for many. With sensitivity, we pray and work for the day when our one human family on this tiny planet in a vast universe are living together without violence, united in peace.

Fourth century St. Anthony, praying in the Egyptian desert, not far from Gaza and Israel, would say each morning:

“Today, we begin again!”

So it is for us as we remember what the UN Charter says about our common yearnings.




Philip Huggins

The above article was published in Pearls and Irritation: John Menadue's Public Policy Journal. Bishop Philip Huggins Director, Centre for Ecumenical Studies, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture and member of Compassionate Australia's team.



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