The Colour Purple: the Wounded Healer

Glynn Cardy
Sun 26 Mar

The Colour Purple sung by Cynthia Erivo & Jennifer Hudson is from the musical, which in turn is from Alice Walker’s book.  Before we listen to this beautiful song I think it is helpful to know that the main character, Celie, a black American woman, has had a terrible life.  She’s been beaten and raped by her father, and the children that came from those rapes were taken from her.  The society in which she suffered, by people’s individual and collective unwillingness to intervene and save Celie, endorsed the abuse.  God – a patriarchal God – was part of this endorsement.  This God was implicitly linked to the cause of suffering.

As the story develops, and love and possibilities and restoration happen for Celie, a new understanding of God – a God of hope – develops.  There’s a line that says “I came into this world with God, and when I finally looked inside, I found it [‘it’ being a different understanding of God] just as close as my breath is to me.  [And it’s this that] is the hope that sets us free.  Celie found God inside – and that discovery helped her see God in love shared, in a blade of corn, in a honey bee, and… in the colour purple.



You might have heard in the song, Colour Purple, cadences of Jesus stories – stories about how something tiny can grow into something huge; stories about that which is small and weak and easily dismissed overcoming the powerful and strong and assumed-to-be-normative.

And so Celie sings. “It take a grain of love to make a mighty tree.  Even the smallest voice can make a harmony.  Like a drop of water keep the river high – there are miracles for you and I.”

The context of this song, like the context of Jesus’ ministry, is hope in the midst of suffering.  It is rare in the Bible that a strong, powerful person is the hope-bearer.  Usually it is someone who knows something of suffering themselves – who knows what it’s like to be in pain or wounded or excluded or stigmatized.

The Dutch priest Henri Nouwen titled one of his books “The Wounded Healer”.  Nouwen was shaped by the L’Arche community and his friendship with John Vanier.  L’Arche is a community where people of various abilities and health, live together, help and heal each other.  Henri talked openly about his own woundedness and particularly his struggle with depression. 

With this lens of ‘wounded healer’ I would invite you this morning to think again about that old parable of the Good Samaritan – a parable Jesus used to critique a lawyer’s wish to circumscribe who is a neighbour and who is not.  ‘Surely you don’t have to love everyone?’ thought the lawyer.  ‘Surely there are limits and boundaries around who should be loved and who should be avoided?’

The trick in this story is in who we think Jesus was referring to as a neighbour.  Was he telling us the man in the ditch was the neighbour?  Or the heretical Samaritan?  Or both?


When I read this story I think of the Samaritan as an outsider – maybe recognisable by his accent, or skin pigmentation, or clothing??   This Samaritan was a long way from home.  He was in a place where he was a foreigner, of a despised religion and cultural history. 

My guess is that he knew what it was like to be an outsider, and what it was like to suffer.  And out of the soil of his own suffering had grown the tentative and vulnerable flower of compassion.  So he stopped, when others wouldn’t.  And he helped, when others walked straight on by.  And he didn’t pray, though prayer was in all he did.  The marginalized one was the one who showed what the Kin-dom of God was like.


In the story of the Colour Purple one of the pathways for Celie out of the abuse, horror, and loneliness of her past was her love affair with Shug.  Shug had her own woundedness, just as Celie had her own strength.  But in the love shared, the power of healing flowed.  In time the love affair ended, though the strength and confidence it had given Celie remained.  That strength of love, that flow of healing, Celie would name as God.


In 1999, formerl Moral Majority spokesman Reverend Jerry Falwell came out publicly against the children’s show Teletubbies. He believed that its character “Tinky-Winky” was gay, stating that he was purple – the colour of gay pride – and that his antennae was a triangle – the symbol of gay pride.


It’s one of those incidences in history that seems so ridiculous when you look back at it.  A pity in ’99 we didn’t all wear pin-badges saying “I am Tinky-Winky”, or all wear outrageous purple (though some of you might have).


I wonder whether the Good Samaritan was gay?  Or the beaten man he helped?  If either was, how would this change the story for you?  Celie and Shrug of course were both women.  Nouwen too was gay.  Does love which restores and heals and empowers have gender boundaries?  Does God have boundaries when it comes to restorative love?


Before we move into discussion mode, I want to share a lovely quote from Nouwen.  He wrote: “To pray, that is, to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the "beloved", is to learn that that voice excludes no one.  Where I dwell, God dwells with me and where God dwells with me I find all my sisters and brothers.”[i]


I think Celie would concur with that.




The Good Samaritan is a parable that continues to be relevant today as well as yesterday, in our culture as well as in every culture.  What message do you hear in this parable that should be on the front page of our newspapers tomorrow?


The reality of suffering and the presence of hope are also as relevant today as in the past.  Why do you think there are so many stories in literature, theatre, and cinema, which portray the one who brings hope as also the one who is flawed by his/her wounds?  What is the message of such stories?


For our communal prayers this morning what is one place/person/incident of suffering and hope that you wish we hold before God?  [choose one per group please].



[i]  Nouwen, Henri J.M. (2012). Life is Advent: The Lord is Always Near. St. Louis: All Saints Press. p. 22.

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