Deborah Metcalf, Chaplain Resident
We live embodied lives, and this experience of living in a body informs and is intertwined with all other aspects of our being. In fact, I recently sort of re-learned the importance of taking care of my physical body and the impacts it has had on my mental and emotional well being, as well as my ability to think clearly and perform mental tasks. At first, I felt like I was doing these things instead of a spiritual practice. But soon, I began to realize the impact it was having on my overall mental, emotional, and physical health. I began to feel like I had more time for my more traditionally “spiritual” practices like meditation. I began to feel that my spirit was lighter, I was kinder, less tired, and had more energy for the things and people I enjoy.
All this is to say that our physical bodies have an impact on our overall sense of health, healing, and wellness and is an integrated part of our holistic selves: mind, body, and spirit. Our physical bodies are prone to aches and pains, disease, and infection, prone to hunger and to thirst. This matters. They matter to our spirit, and to the livelihood of our bodies in community with others. Our bodies matter in connection to our minds and our emotions, and are integrated with our whole selves. Care of the body is concern for the whole self in community and relationship with others.
One example of this can be seen in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s triangle depicts that our physical needs must be met as a foundation for growth and flourishing in other areas of our lives. Jesus was all about the physical body. Jesus didn’t say, don’t worry about your blindness, or your aching back, or your bleeding lesions, it will dissipate in heaven. No, he addressed real needs of the physical body here and now. He made heaven on earth for these people by healing their aching bodies, in turn allowing their spirit to be free from physical pain.
But, when we find ourselves or our loved ones in the hospital, it can feel like our bodies are failing us. So, then, what does it look like to care for the body? When healing the physical body is not an option, does this mean that god has abandoned us? That we are not worthy of his healing? No. I think this is when wellness for the physical body as means to promote soul-care switches over, and soul-care becomes a means to help cope with physical ailments. It’s not that one is more important than the other, it is that they are uniquely and divinely intertwined with one another.
Here at Michigan Medicine, we focus on healing these physical bodies we possess, and this is spiritual work. Hospitals are places of physical healing, but there is also a need for spiritual and emotional healing alongside it. I think this is a huge part of where chaplains can come into play and help extend healing beyond the physical body, as well as helping the physical body heal through the mind and spirit. Physical healing is linked to healing in the mind and spirit. Mental and emotional pains can manifest physically. In turn, physical pain can impact our spiritual and emotional health as well.
Healing can be done in a number of different ways. Doctors and nurses, chaplains, and social workers help address our various needs as holistic people. In their roles, each have the opportunity to heal through the intentionality they bring when they enter a patient’s room. A caregiver can practice healing through compassionate touch as they perform various caregiving tasks and/or procedures on each patient. A social worker or chaplain through holding a hand if/when appropriate. If touch is not appropriate, then compassionate gaze could be utilized. “Holy listening” can be utilized either through the practice of empathetic and reflective listening or through music. Music can be utilized through the use of song, bells, singing bowls, or a professional music therapist. Many of these items could be used by anyone, and even adopted by visiting family members.
I think healing is and should be seen as a holistic endeavor between mind, body, and spirit. In a hospital setting, such as I work in, medical staff, along with chaplains and social workers, and sometimes others in specialized fields each play a role in the holistic healing of patients, and family members, because they are a part of our holistic, spiritual selves. The Holy Spirit works through each of them as they utilize their gifts and talents for the holistic care of patients. It is always done best with intentionality and love at the forefront. Jesus showed us through his life, that healing of physical bodies has an impact far greater than physical relief.