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Spirituality, Aging, and Health

Published by Chapster on 2002/9/24 (5562 reads)
Spirituality, Aging and Health
Taped in the KEOM studios in Mesquite, Texas on September 24, 2002
Interview with Dr. James Griffin, Station Director

Q: So Mike, what are we talking about today?

A: Today, I thought we'd talk a little bit about spirituality and health. Now, for some people, that may constitute a scary phrase. But, I'm really not referring to religion especially, but more as a way to talk about what each of us believes is our purpose, meaning, and end. So, our spirituality is the what of what we believe and I think that religion refers to how we practice what we believe. This is important because there is a growing body of research that is seeking to understand the relationship between spirituality and health. One institution that is studying this relationship is the Duke University Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine [ Pargament, KI, Koenig HG, Tarakeshwar, N, Hahn, J (2001). Religious struggle as a predictor of mortality among medically ill elderly patients: A two-year longitudinal study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 161, 1881-1885.] it was found that those "patients who believed that God was punishing them, had abandoned them, didn't love them, didn't have the power to help, or felt their church had deserted them, experienced 19% to 28% greater mortality (or risk of dying) during the 2-year period following hospital discharge.” This is a significant finding, and it serves to highlight the importance of how we understand our place in the world and whatever we believe in.

Q: So, what does this mean in a more practical sense?

A: I understand it to mean that if we have a deep sense of belief in God, then our relationship to God should be one of peace and comfort. If it isn’t or in some way we feel alienated from God, then statistically, it may have some impact on our physical well-being. I feel that in my work as a chaplain, I see this routinely. Many people have had a deep sense of connection to a faith tradition at one time or another, only to be hurt or alienated by something or someone whom they trusted, even their sense of God. This is especially true of some of the folks in our long term care facilities. They may have been very close to a church, for instance, only to become sick, and drop off the churches' radar. So, here they are, losing a little bit of their dignity and hope every day, and the belief system that has given them such comfort is no longer present. It's easy to see how they would doubt what they previously believed in so deeply.

Q: So what do we do with this?

A: If it is we ourselves who are in a place of struggle with our sense of spirituality, I think it is important to understand what it was that created the struggle and either find a way to deal with it, or find a new practice of spirituality that fits us better. For me, at this time in my life, I prefer a more ritualistic practice. I find comfort in such an approach. Others find help in a more emotional practice. And both of these styles, and many more, can be found in any number of different religions! Indeed, you may find that the choice of practice that is most meaningful, is a practice not tied to any religion. The point is that we don’t do ourselves a favor by remaining stuck in this place of struggle. It should be noted, however, that one of the great strengths of spirituality is its social connection to those who share similar beliefs.

Q: And what if we're concerned about, say, an elderly loved one?

A: It's always important to ask them what they want. It may be that it will require some homework, like finding a religious leader of their tradition who is new to them and more accepting. They may want to talk to someone of an entirely different tradition. One of the saddest things I see are the elderly folks who have been abandoned by their faith organizations. Often, they are so angry that they don't want anything to do with faith anymore. Many health care facilities, even some local senior centers, have chaplains on staff who are very helpful in providing a relationship of trust and humanity where an someone can reestablish a more inviting relationship to faith. This is one of the pleasures of working in hospice - getting to see folks find a sense of belief that works for them, whatever that may be.

Tags: suppot   church   rabbi   minister   faith   abandonment   visits   parish  

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