Through most of recorded history spiritual beliefs and religious practices have been assumed to play a central role in health. Religious leaders were often also seen as healers, or at least mediums through whom healing might come. The 20th century particularly saw a separation between the practice of medicine and spiritual/religious belies and practices. Harlod G. Koenig’s book Spirituality In Patient Care: Why, How, When, and What addresses this gap and argues for the inclusion of patient’s religious and spiritual life as an essential element in “patient-centered medicine” (8). He makes use of volumes of research data to demonstrate the value of religiosity to health, and the importance of health professionals addressing this aspect of their patients’ lives.
The book outlines, as the title suggests, the why, how, when and what of including the spirituality of the patient in the treatment conversation and plan. He then proceeds to discuss some risks – i.e. some ways that religious and spiritual beliefs and practices might be problematic, and how do address these. One example is the notion that illness or suffering is somehow “God’s will” which might dispose a patient to resist treatment or might interfere with that patient’s openness and capacity for healing (108). He outlines professional boundaries for health professionals, and then spends a chapter on each of the following disciplines and how they might address spirituality in patient care: Chaplains and Pastoral Care; Nursing; Social Work; Rehabilitation; Mental Health.
His final two main chapters are spent outlining a model curriculum for including religion and spirituality in medical training, followed by an overview of beliefs and practice found in world religions. These chapters are helpful not only for medical schools but particularly for staff development and inservice training in medical facilities. Ongoing conversation is needed to develop the ability of all health practioners to address these issues effectively with patients and their families. The failure to do so can hinder the ability of patients to develop a relationship of trust with their medical team and to make full use of these resources for their progress toward wholeness.
I highly recommend this book for medical practioners as well as clergy and other religious professionals and lay leaders who function in healthcare settings or interact regularly with people in matters of their health. Below are links to chapter summary notes for use in a book club or other study.
In perusing FB today I came across a post by an acquaintance who has one Anglo parent and one Indian parent. She speaks and writes about the experience of being bi-racial. Her post comments on a blog post by A Breeze HarperOn Buddhist Sanghas, Divesting in Post-racial Whiteness, and Nina Simone. Harper describes… “what Katherine McKittrick refers to as a black female socio-spatial epistemology. See her book Demonic Groundsand she will break down how we develop our knowledge-base (epistemology) through our embodied experiences in racialized-sexualized spaces in the USA.” Later she asks: After spending the whole day there, I realized how ridiculous it is that I have spent so much time in largely white dominated spaces in which I physically and emotionally exhaust myself trying to explain what “racism is”, how “whiteness operates”, and that, “No, I’m not making this sh*t up in the head.” I have been depriving myself from these types of healing space my nearly entire life. At the end of the day of that retreat, I really asked myself, “What would happen if I stopped participating in certain spaces in which I can never just be ‘me’? What would happened if I shifted and just focused on spaces like the ones today?”
I was struck by how this connected with my experience reading Cheryl Townsend Gilkes’ “The ‘Loves’ and ‘Troubles’ of African-American Women’s Bodies (p81). Gilkes makes liberal use of Alice Walkers advocacy of the “four loves” as “ethical positions associated with a good womanist.” (89) These loves have to do with affirmations of self, embodied experience, and overcoming racial/sexual violence and the external valuing according to white essentialist norms. What Jha and Harper describe is the exhaustion they feel when trying to explain white privilege and the experience of being “colored” (to borrow the term Mary Church Terrell advocates) and the freedom found in a place where one does not need to explain or advocate for self. Yet Gilkes suggests that African-American women in particular often have to justify their existence and work even in their own community partly because of this very diversity in skin color, hair and body type. Given these tensions, how do we work together to create safe space, and what if any role does a middle class straight white male play in that formation? How can I use, sublimate, or relinquish my privileges for the sake of this formation? Can we all embrace the four loves or are they the explicit gift of the Womanists?
Disclaimer – Todd is a friend and colleague. So I wanted to like this debut novel. Even so, I was delighted by just how much I enjoyed it. The characters are engaging – I grew to care about them and their fate and was anxious when it appeared things might not go well. I was continually surprised by the turns in the plot – people and places and times were not what I thought, which is both one of the literary devices, as well as part of the larger point of the story. Things are not always what they seem.
In the spirit of all great science fiction and fantasy, Boddy creates a world in which to explore issues of meaning and human existence, things like truth, commitment, sacrifice, integrity, trust and loyalty. While he is engaged in theological reflection and is in conversation with apocalyptic traditions present in religious teaching, he is not preaching nor proselytizing. He seems to be genuinely saying, “I wonder…” and asking, “What if…?” and he invites us along for the ride. Even within the story it is not clear which construct of reality is held by the author, nor which will prevail in the world of the story, or the multiverse, as it were. It reminded me of the work of Mary Doria Russell: specifically The Sparrow and Children of God.
I think this book fills an important niche in that it employs fantasy, science fiction and religious themes, without speaking exclusively to either of those audiences. This is a book that can be readily enjoyed by folks who would not typically read in any of these genres. It is one you can recommend to family and friends regardless of what kind of fiction they typically read – there is something for everyone.
When I reached the end, I immediately wanted to turn and pick up the next volume. Unfortunately, he hasn’t finished it yet. Get busy man! I want to know what happens!