Are you comfortable talking about your faith? What about if you’re a patient or healthcare provider–are you comfortable talking about spiritual practices with your doctor/patients? Or does that swing you way out of your comfort zone?
Prof Des O’Neill is a consultant in geriatric and stroke medicine in Ireland. He had this to say about spirituality in medicine:
“I broached new territory when delivering on a request to talk about spirituality and health at the Eucharistic Congress. For me personally, I was reminded of the line in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets that ‘each venture is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate’.”
He reminds readers that spirituality is internationally recognized as vital to healthcare. In fact, the majority of US medical schools now include spirituality in their medical curriculum. (Read: We need to talk about spirituality in healthcare).
When I visited a Spirituality and Medicine class at Harvard Medical School I got an inside peek at that world of aspiring physicians and hospital chaplains. The students wrestled with questions like:
- Will I be crossing a line if I mention religion or God?
- What if my faith differs from my patient’s belief system?
- I know how to speak in medical terms, but I have no idea how to articulate spirituality and prayer . . .
I think there are ways to find commonalities, regardless of one’s particular faith practice. And that’s where the language of Spirit comes in.
Does God know if we’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish? Does he know we speak Farsi, French, Swahili? I don’t think so. The language of Spirit is truly communicated in ways that transcend language and culture and speak to the heart. When we’re in tune with that, we break the barriers that would limit us.
Here’s a modest example from my own life:
As a college student, I spent a summer teaching English in Japan. At the end of my trip I spent a few days in Tokyo before heading home to San Francisco. I didn’t speak Japanese, aside from a few phrases I’d learned. On the final evening of my trip, I got off at the wrong train stop as I made my way back to my friend’s apartment in the city. I had no cell phone, no way of communicating my dilemma–and frankly no idea which train to take to get home.
In the middle of this busy Tokyo train station during commuter rush hour, with suits of all sizes whizzing past me, I felt alone and scared. All I could do was stop and pray. And God provided an angel. I heard the message that I was safe . . . and I think my angel heard it, too.
A kind man suddenly approached me and asked in broken English if I was lost. I told him the name of the street where my friend lived. He took my hand and said, “Follow me.” He paid my fare, got me on a train, spoke to a couple in Japanese and asked them to be sure I got off at my stop.
I’ll never forget that day. It taught me that we each hear the divine message when we’re listening–first in our own consciousness. When we agree to tune in to this divine message, cultural and language barriers fall away and we glimpse how Spirit talks to each one of us.
I think the language of the divine can open all of our hearts to the direction we need in our lives, whether about our healthcare decisions or anything else.
For further reading:
Some stats from a 2010 survey of U.S. medical schools on including courses on Spirituality and Health: (See Spirituality in medical school curricula: findings from a national survey)
“Ninety percent (range 84%-90%) of medical schools have courses or content on spirituality and health (S&H), 73% with content in required courses addressing other topics and 7% with a required course dedicated to S&H. Although over 90% indicate that patients emphasize spirituality in their coping and health care, only 39% say that including S&H is important.”