Monday, May 21, 2007

May 21, 2007 - Healing or Wellness?

This morning I drive over to visit the newly-opened local affiliate of The Wellness Community – a national organization providing “professional programs of emotional support, education, and hope” to people with cancer. It’s in Eatontown, about 25 minutes north of here. They have a great location, just off the Garden State Parkway. The paint on the meeting rooms is still fresh, and not all the furniture has yet arrived, but it’s clear the staff and board members have great plans for the place. Classes, support groups, yoga, qigong, a resource library – all these will be offered to cancer survivors, at no charge.

I’ve gone up for one of their scheduled Newcomers Orientations, but today I’m the only one there. So, my orientation takes the form of a one-on-one chat with Jan, the program director. It turns out Jan knows my wife, Claire. She’s a clinical social worker who served on the same hospice team with Claire about 10 years ago.

In the course of our conversation, the word “healing” comes up. Jan explains it’s the philosophy of The Wellness Community to avoid that word as much as possible, favoring “wellness” instead. The reason is that many people associate “healing” with cure – and, of course, not all cancers can be cured. Would it not give cancer survivors false hope to speak of healing, when many of them will eventually die of the disease, anyway? Wellness is a better word – or, so declared the Community’s late founder, Dr. Harold Benjamin, in his book, From Victim to Victor. I have the sense that Jan may not be 100% on board with this impoverished understanding of healing, but she gamely presents the party line.

It seems to me that, in the 25 years or so since the first Wellness Community was founded, the meaning of the word “healing” has evolved and expanded. Now, it describes so much more than the mere cessation of physical disease. I know, from conversations with Claire about hospice ministry, that hospice team members consider the word to have multiple levels of meaning. Even death, in certain circumstances, can be considered a healing experience.

Leo Tolstoy – the Russian novelist and mystic – once observed that our true life is not the ordinary, material life we see here on this earth. Rather, it is the invisible, inner life of the spirit. The relation of our physical life to our spiritual life is like the relation between the elaborate scaffolding that construction workers put up, and the building itself.

The scaffolding displays the general shape of the true building. It’s easy for uninformed passersby to mistake this aggregation of steel pipe and wooden planks for the real thing – but it’s not. The scaffolding is important, and very necessary to the work of construction, but it’s only temporary. The scaffolding masks the true structure, which is slowly taking shape within, under the tarpaulins. One day the scaffolding will come down, and the true structure will be revealed.

That inner place is where healing happens. There’s no need to shy away from that word – even in cases when it’s clear, to the anxious circle of family and friends gathered around a hospital bed, that death is near.

"For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling — if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

Wellness is a great word: but healing is better.


Tom Clarke said...

Great blog! How do you have antthing left for Sundays? For a short timer (at least that's what they say) like me, would you have any suggestions on a "quick and dirty" (I hope you know what I mean ) way to read the Bible? E.g., if I'm starting from scratch, should I start with a certain gospel? Any Old Testament Books you'd hit? (Please don't say Revelations :-)).

Also, I'd like'd your snail mail to send a copy of my music CD that I made for my bithday to you.


Carlos ("Carl") said...


I'm glad you like what I've written. Yes, finding the time is a challenge, but I give the blog a high priority, so I usually manage to squeeze it in somewhere.

Some good biblical books to begin with would be Mark and Philippians in the New Testament, and Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55) and Psalms in the Old Testament. (In reading the Psalms, if you come to any that seem problematic or difficult, just skip to the next one - there are psalms of lament, for example, that require a lot of background to understand, and you'd do better for now to just skip to another one.)

Also, if you go to the American Bible Society site:

and do a site search for "bible reading," you'll find several helpful links, including an option to have them e-mail you a daily Bible passage.


Carlos ("Carl") said...


I realize you asked for my snail mail address as well. It is:

704 Forman Avenue
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ 08742