It is not uncommon to assess a person’s health and well-being only in the physical, mental or pharmacological sense. Indeed, it can be observed that once a person falls ill, his humanity is narrowed down into a case file as if a simple folder with notes on his physical and mental health is enough representation of the man as a whole. One often forgets that man’s multi-dimensional nature extends even through illness, old age and disease. Well-being and being physically well are two very different things that must be considered in assessing and caring for people stricken with ailments.
A Critique of Dr. Arthur Freeman’s “Spirituality, Well-Being and Ministry”
Man is a multi-dimensional being. His existence extends far beyond the physical acts of breathing and moving…that much has been accepted by philosophers and existentialists. The Church has always referred to a purpose to man’s existence that coincides with a grand plan that God has pre-ordained. But does this purpose and abstract nature of existence extend into the sunset of one’s life or during the ravages caused by disease?
The article Spirituality, Well-Being and Ministry by Arthur Freeman, Ph.D. takes a look into the correlation between these three elements in the growing public recognition of the role of spirituality and prayer in healing.
In this sense spirituality is not quite the same as religion which is often more focused on its institution or belief systems, but rather it stands for a person’s concern with the transcendent and abstract side of life.
Freeman also proposes that the term well-being to be a more apt term than being well. He points out that simply being well is often limited to being physically healthy and without illness. But as life is full of illness and other circumstances that may make life hard, “being well” can at times be impossible to attain. “Well being,” on the other hand transcends physical ails and has more to do with existing well in a more abstract sense, despite whatever problems or illness life may bring.
Freeman believes that Jesus knew this and taught it for his teachings always recognized the reality of being human and suffering. The author cites that in the Bible, Jesus considers his message to proclaim the presence of God to be primary, and his mission of healing to be only secondary. (Freeman, 8)
Using this as a model, the author presupposes that it would make sense to introduce to people the spiritual dimension of their lives; to show them how to get in touch with what can give them well being even if it does not always mean being well. He cautions however in implying a dualism of matter and spirit. All people live in this physical world bound by time and space but which includes spiritual dimensions.
The public has come to understand the term ministry in the narrow sense as a description of the vocation of the religious professional. But it should actually not be limited to the religious or even lay givers of pastoral care or those in the pastoral ministry.
All who serve for the well being of other people and do so as a service to human existence are part of the ministry. Just as those who have a calling is the same as having a vocation in life. A number of medical professionals for example see their work both as a ministry and a vocation.
In the area of healing, spirituality and faith Freeman points out that there is a growing need for a new paradigm. As a doctor and caregiver tends to the physical requirements of one’s body, the soul and spiritual well-being of a person needs the same kind of attention. Indeed, when one is at the stage of suffering physically, it is possible that in a more transcendent way, he is robust and healthy. Freeman cites a most profound excerpt from Larry Dossey’s book “Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the practice of Medicine (1993):
Even if prayer or attempts at self-transformation fail in the course of illness, there is still as sense in which a cure can always occur. By “cure” I do not mean the physical disappearance of a cancer, heart disease, blood pressure, or stroke, but something more marvelous –the realization that physical illness, no matter how painful or grotesque, is at some level of secondary importance in the total scheme of our existence.
This is the awareness that one’s authentic higher self is completely impervious to the ravages of any physical ailment whatever. The disease may regress or totally disappear when this awareness dawns, for reasons we may not understand… The real cure is the realization that at the most essential level, we are all “untouchables” –utterly beyond the ravages of disease and death. (Freeman, 9)
Looking after one’s spiritual health may at times seem taxing. This is due to the fact that one’s abstract nature or “sense of self” is not so easily attainable despite the misnomer “self.” Often, a person’s sense of having identity is so dependent on how other’s view him.
In younger days and sociological views, man is defined by the roles he plays in society. Besides the name by which he is called, he can take on so many identities defined by his work, his parenthood, his vocation, or his relationships.
It is however interesting to note, that when one becomes physically ill, the science that is medicine can in a way diminish a person’s humanity by narrowing him down to a case according to his illness. People in the medical profession seem to forget that a person is more than just his lung, liver or heart. Existence goes way beyond bodily functions and dysfunctions.
Is ministry limited to just people of the religious vocation? Freeman quotes Dr. Bernard Lown of Harvard University:
“It is a simplistic notion to say that medicine is a science. It partakes of science but a doctor must be much more than a technician; it is not a doctor’s job to engage an organ, but to engage a human being –and that requires wisdom.” (Freeman, 10)
Perhaps people in the medical profession have just become jaded that they have confined themselves to just assessing a person’s physical vital statistics. Often, the mantra of “don’t get too attached” may be heard echoing down a hospital’s or nursing home’s sanitary walls. Perhaps it is just a way of self-preservation on their part. But they must realize that their duty does not end with checking IV fluids or blood pressure.
When a person’s dignity and sense of self is not preserved, he becomes an “object.” It is bad enough to have loss of control over one’s limbs and physical functions so the loss of humanity and control of life negatively affects a person’s well-being even more. Sick people need the affirmation of their humanity that can only be given if the professionals attending them recognize them as human beings themselves. It is only then that the afflicted may take steps away from self-pity and towards meditation and acceptance of himself.
When a person reaches that state of spiritual well being; when he realizes physical ailments are only of secondary importance in the total scheme of things, he shall in a way have been already healed for he learns that part of every human that is untouchable; beyond the reach of disease or death.
It is then up to people in the religious ministry or the community of caregivers to help sustain a person spiritually and help them keep their human dignity that they may not loose their sense of self amidst the struggles of life.
Freeman, Arthur (1998, Spr). Spirituality, Well-Being, and Ministry. Journal of Pastoral Care,
52, 7-17. Retrieved September 17, 2007, from ATLA Religion Database with
ATLASerials database. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001000357&si