Saturday, 27 June 2009

Divine healing

I've been interested in divine healing for years having been converted as a mid teenager in a Pentecostal church which frequently practiced prayer for the sick. Although I have no doubt that God can, does, and did heal some of the people some of the time, I have ongoing questions in my mind about many aspects.

Faith in the great physician-divine healing and suffering in American culture 1860-1900 by Heather Curtis looks to be an interesting read-albeit its not that cheap!! (£17.95 on amazon market place!). Certainly Lauren Winner's review has wet my appetite, especially this paragraph..

'One of the most fascinating discussions, in a book full of fascinating discussions, is Curtis' consideration of what it meant to be healed. Many people who were cured by "acting faith" continued to manifest somatic symptoms of their illnesses. They were not necessarily freed of pain. Rather, they were freed from invalidism—they got out of bed, even if doing so was terrifically painful. Being healed, in other words, did not involve only a change of physical state. It also involved an "epistemological reorientation" in which, even though workaday sensory perception might suggest that healing had not occurred, the eyes of faith saw healing. Thus, making sense of suffering and managing pain were as much interpretive acts as biological facts.'
Lauren Winner

This sounds awfully close to a 'healing' of one's attitude to one's illness rather than the illness itself-a sort of aplication of CBT-it's what you think about your situation that defines you rather than the situation per se.

Patients with bits of paper

Sir Richard Bayliss notes in his excellent autobiography (In sickness and health) a suggestion by Sir William Osler that, the doctor should beware the patient carrying 'un morceau de papier'. Osler suggests that patients who bring lists into the consultation are 'neurotic'.

I recall at medical school the caution from using 'always and never' so would not want to raise a concern about all patients bearing lists, but there are some days when Osler's words ring true.

Just yesterday I saw three patients with long lists all of whom are somewhat introspective and 'incurable' in the sense of bearing symptoms which are predominantly medically unexplained. I'm not sure that using the word neurotic is all that helpful since it carries such perjorative baggage (Indeed the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has eliminated the category of Neurosis, reflecting the dawning recognition of psychoanalysis' status as art rather than science, and a decision by the editors to provide descriptions of behavior as opposed to hidden psychological mechanisms as diagnostic criteria).

Nonetheless what can we say about lists? I have to confess that I encourage my patients to take lists with them when they are facing a consultation with a speclialist, especially for the first time. So I wouldn't want to type cast. But still 'un morceau de papier' remains just one of many cues which experienced doctors use to form an assessment of a patient-just so long as it doesn't so prejudice and obsure the multpile other cues presented to them during any consultaion.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

"I can't read!"

I was talking with a lady in her seventies who wants to 'read' the Bible. She has a minor degree of learning disability and longstanding mental health problems and when we chat about ways to grow as a Christian I casually tell her, "well if you read the Bible for yourself and chew it over God will speak to you".

"But I can't read" was her forlorn cry.

So what is the answer?

Not sure I have the answer, but one answer is to listen to the Bible being read. There's been versions of the Bible on audio for some years, but my discovery of Max McLean and his excellent readings has taken things up a notch. You can download the entire New Testament for 20$ and burn to cd if you wish or listen with your ipod. Also take a look at him reciting Mark's gospel-it's wonderfully powerful stuff, and just reminds us that the gospel accounts are true stories with real narrative power.

When you think about the vast majority of people throughout history were listeners rather than readers, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised that listening to the Bible is so effective.

Monday, 22 June 2009


AC Grayling writes in the Times...But real hope is the sustainer of all that is possible and good, and it is creative. Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry demonstrates this in his advice about getting people to build a ship: “Do not cajole them to cut down trees, saw them into planks and nail them together,” he said, but rather “teach them to long for the immensity of the sea.” Every teacher should have this remark pinned up somewhere.

Being a Christian isn't just believing certain basic facts- 'Jesus died for my sins' but loving and living for a great God who gave up his immensity to win us back to his rightful rule.

Isaiah 40 v23 onwards is great

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
 “My way is hidden from the Lord,
 and my right is disregarded by my God”?
 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is  the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Sunday's gift

A rare event-felt unwell so didn't make it to church this am. Both daughters at home so we had a brief 'family church'. Read a prayer from the book The Worship Sourcebook.
For those who like me have been used to extemporary praying it's surprisingly refreshing to use prepared prayers

O God, 

we joyously come together to worship, 

realizing we need not summon you into our midst, 

for you are here. 

We need not call you into the secret places of our hearts, 

for you are there. 

We need our eyes of faith to be opened, 

that we may see you; 

our ears to be unstopped, 

that we may hear you; 

our minds to be sensitive, 

that we may know you; 

our hearts to be tender, 

that we may receive you. 

Grant each one a blessing, O Lord, 

as each has need, 

in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Giving bad news

It's something that concentrates our minds and hearts however long we have been a doctor . It was brought home to me yesterday whilst conveying such news to a longstanding patient whom I have known for nearly 30 years. Sometimes what was written years ago continues to be helpful. Such as this from The Lancet in 1948

"One gets the feel of patients, whether they want the truth or not. Usually it is best to await their approach, and often the form of question helps to determine the answer. One of my best patients and friends-an intelligent, inquisitive and humorous old man-asked me no single question about his trouble during a long illness with an inoperable cancer of the bowel. Sometimes the near relatives can help, but usually it has to lie between doctor and patient. A dear old lady of 80 said, "tell me doctor I'm not afraid";  so I told her and for the many months she lingered on she always had a smile and usually a joke. But for the many others the truth would have been mental torture.

And with Pilate one may ask, " What is truth?" At the best we can only tell some of it, for we never know the whole.'

Peripatetic The Lancet  1948

I think the important points here are that one always takes one cue from the patient ('best to wait their approach'), and one always tells the truth even if not the whole truth.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Sunday's gift

'Christ plays in ten thousand places'

I came across this intriguing phrase as the title of a book by Eugene Peterson.  It was first scribed by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) who was a Christian with a keen aesthetic taste and an acute awareness of the grandeur of God in all creation.
There is a wonderful and insightful cameo of his life in Gaius Davies' book Genius Grief and Grace
Davies writes, 'the most lasting impression that Hopkins leaves for us is his concern that grace should be an expression of a 'better beauty'. This is brought out in two ways. He suggest firstly that in giving up the enjoyment of natural beauty we may find something even more fulfilling; and secondly, that grace when lived out in daily life makes all our 'goings graces'.
In Hopkins poem As kingfishers catch fire...
I say more: the just man justices
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces
Acts in God's eyes what in God's eyes he is-
Christ-for Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's face
Does Hopkins go too far in this? He states here a truth not often so daringly expressed, for he would certainly agree that the word was made flesh once and for all in Christ. Yet he says grace should make us behave graciously, as being forgiven should make us more forgiving, as being justified should make us more just in our dealings. His most daring insight was to see grace in the lives of men and women as if they themselves expressed the new life of Christ in which the Father delights.'

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The subtle temptations of Christian leadership

All leaders have their weaknesses and temptations. The Roman Catholic writer Henri Nouwen was particularly perceptive about a particular temptation which Christian leaders can face.

Writing in his book  The  Genesee Diary-report from a Trappist monastery, he muses, 'whilst teaching, lecturing and writing about the importance of solitude, inner freedom and peace of mind, I kept stumbling over my own compulsions and illusions. What was driving me from one book to another, one place to another, one project to another?...What was turning my vocation to be a witness to the love of God into a tiring job?...Maybe I spoke more about God than with God (my emphasis). Maybe my witing about prayer kept me from a prayerful life?'

The folly and danger  of 'do as I say not as I do'!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

What you need from a doctor

Sir Richard Bayliss was consultant physician at London's Westminster Hospital from 1954 until his retirement in 1981. He was physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth from 1964 until he retired. I only have vague recollections of him from my days of training at the Westminster but am greatly enjoying reading his autobiography,  In sickness and in health, written just a year before he died in 2006.

One of his early mentors whilst he was a junior at St Thomas' Hopsital was Sir Maurice Cassidy.  Sir Maurice was also an eminent physician and had attended both King George Vth and King George VIth. It was Sir Maurice who taught Bayliss that, 'every doctor would be more understanding of his patients if he himself had experienced three things-a serious acute illness, a chronic illness and an endoscopic examination.'

A message from the other side

No, not that side! But thank God got through surgery ok yesterday. And thanks to all for love support and prayer.