Article: Holistic Health Care and Spiritual Self-Presence, by Michael O’Sullivan

In this freely available article appearing in a 2016 issue of Religions, Michael O’Sullivan argues for the importance of spirituality in healthcare. In so doing, he explores the meanings of “spiritual” and “health,” concluding that “Providers of healthcare are dealing, not simply with people faced with wellbeing or healthcare challenges, but people formed by narratives to do with being on a journey about the meaning of their lives.” The article’s abstract follows:

In this paper, I present evidence of the developing interest in spirituality in healthcare and treat three questions it raises: (1) what makes a person and a life spiritual so that a strictly medical model of health and care won’t do?; (2) what is the scope of healthcare?; and (3) what makes care in healthcare ‘spiritual’ precisely? In addressing the first question I attend to the etymological roots of “spiritual” and articulate how the notion of “spiritual” in Pauline biblical texts is being retrieved today in spirituality studies and research but in a way, also, that does not attach it strictly to religious affiliation. In addressing the second question, I highlight the holistic meaning of healthcare by first attending to the etymological roots of health. I then show that adequate healthcare also requires reflection on the notion of the good and illustrate what I mean by interpreting a biblical narrative. In addressing the third question, I draw on lived experience to illustrate how care-providers may need enhanced religious literacy to read and respond to care-seekers irrespective of their own personal beliefs. However, I also argue that what makes care distinctively spiritual in the first instance has less to do with the subject matter of the care—the what of the care—and more to do with how carers act, with, that is, the self-presence of the carers.

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