Multifaith perspectives on spiritual care explored
By James Buchok
WINNIPEG — While medical science focuses on physical ailments, spiritual care brings hope and healing to the spirit and soul, according to a panel of spiritual caregivers assembled by the Spiritual Health Committee of the Manitoba Multifaith Council, Oct. 17 at Winnipeg’s Misericordia Place Personal Care Home.
The four-person panel was asked to reflect on how the importance of their faiths’ rituals, symbols, and other sacred activities are used during times of physical distress, illness or impending death.
Pundit Venkat Manchiraju from the Hindu Community said Hinduism believes all illness and all health begins in the spirit. He said medicine cures the body “but that does not mean the person has become whole, so the way we provide spiritual care is paramount to health care. We must approach health care from three levels: the physical, the mental and the spiritual.”
Manchiraju added that he believes spiritual care giving “is on the cusp of a golden age when a government can speak to spiritual aspects of health care,” as has the Manitoba government with its recent release of Canada’s first spiritual healthcare strategic plan, Health and the Human Spirit.
The director of Winnipeg’s Jewish Child and Family Services, Al Benarroch, said Judaism believes in the concept of the human soul as a spark of God. “On day one God said ‘let there be light’ but it wasn’t until day four that he made the sun, moon and the stars,” Benarroch said.
“Then what was the nature of that light on the first day? Rabbis teach us it was the light of that spark in the world.”
Benarroch said one of the major practices in Jewish spiritual care is to visit the sick, and Judaism “equates sickness with being in prison and in need of the community.” He said in a synagogue, with a quorum of 10 people, a communal prayer takes place naming the ill person and that person’s mother as the one who carried that life.
“We pray first for the spirit of the sick person and secondly for the body,” he said.
Aboriginal Elder Sylvia James said she is both Anglican and First Nations.
“I walk the two paths together although most First Nations people are not able to do that,” she said. “I’ve been in a sweat lodge and it gives me the same feeling I get as when I’m in a church.”
James said her role as a spiritual caregiver for Aboriginal people in health care institutions includes serving as a patient advocate and an interpreter. She said Aboriginal people believe in a balance of physical, spiritual, mental and emotional healing.
Rev. Myron Klysh, a Romanian Christian Orthodox priest, said spiritual care is for the soul and body from conception to the grave “and beyond the grave,” with prayer vigils not only for the deceased but also the deceased’s family. He said Romanian Christian Orthodox daily worship services include petitions for all “in soul and body.”
Klysh described a service called a moleben used within the Orthodox Christian Church and various Eastern Catholic Churches. A moleben is a supplicatory prayer service that marks a special occasion and can also be served for a person who is ill, has suffered an accident, is to undergo surgery or facing impending death.
Klysh said confidentiality can be a barrier to providing spiritual care in hospitals, and although it is necessary it can limit access to patients who may be in need of spiritual care.
Benarroch said privacy legislation now prohibits institutions from releasing the names and religious affiliations of patients, so if a patient wants a visit from the Jewish community chaplain they have to notify JCFS. Benaroch said “other than walking the wards” or by word of mouth, they often don’t learn of a patient’s spiritual care needs.