The Province’s wellness subcommittee decided at their last meeting to publish one article concerning wellness each month in HNP Today. It is their hope that the friars will use the information provided to increase their awareness, personal responsibility and motivation for changes toward greater wellness.
The first monthly sharing presents a theological underpinning of the subcommittee’s approach to “wellness.” Allegany Sister Vicki Masterpaul, OSF, RN, prepared this reflection, and it is the subcommittee’s hope that you will find it thought provoking in your consideration of the wider meaning of wellness.
A physician, Halbert Dunn, first used the term “wellness” in 1961 when he published a small booklet entitled “High Level Wellness.” Dunn saw wellness as a lifestyle approach based on a foundational philosophy and purpose and lived out in a disciplined commitment.
Wellness viewed from this perspective transcends the concept of health limited to the absence of physical disease. Simply stated, wellness refers to a realistically positive outlook on life. The positive attitude is based in reality and not in denial of what really exists. Thus, wellness does not mean absence of disease. On the contrary, there are persons who live with long-term and chronic illness, even terminal illness, who possess a high degree of wellness.
It is my aim in this brief reflection to present a foundational approach to the concept of “wellness” that paves the way, as it were, for the Holy Name Province wellness subcommittee to present the concrete “how-to’s” of living it out daily.
Wellness is about much more than practicing good health habits. Rather, it is about living in balance – that is, in harmony with oneself, with our sisters and brothers, and with our God. Another way of expressing that balance and harmony is spiritual wholeness.
Catholic theologian John Pilch, whose early education is firmly based in Franciscanism, states that the short and simple definition for wellness is that it is one way of making sense out of life on the basis of spiritual values or religious beliefs. He is convinced that if one follows this approach to wellness it can be a spirituality of wholenessbased on an experience of our God and shaped in response to that experience.
What do we mean when we speak of spirituality? In his book, The Healer’s Calling, your brother, Daniel Sulmasy, states that “very simply put, one’s spirituality is a description of one’s relationship with God.” In keeping with that definition, I would submit that spirituality involves the entire human person in all of his or her relationships, as opposed to just one area of one’s life. Spirituality is “the deepest dimension of life and the ultimate ground of all our questions, hopes, fears and loves.” (Fischer)
As Franciscans committed to the Gospel way of life, ours is, and has been, an incarnational thrust – a tradition animated by a holistic vision of the dignity of the human person: body, mind and spirit – focusing on “the Word made flesh,” reflecting God’s image in the world. We cannot espouse an incarnational view of reality “until we accept that God has forever made the embodied person the privileged place of divine encounter.” (Richard Rohr, OFM)
Rohr tells us that this is the mind that formed Jesus. He freely became body and I/we are body. In a sense, the body is our beginning point, in that it is from this “receiver station” that God created us and named us “temple.” (1Cor.6:19-20) It is the gift of embodiment, then, that places us in relationship to one another, becoming a home, so to speak, to a great range of intensity of God’s presence. The body is the visible sign of invisible grace, and it is in and through the body that the soul becomes real and visible.
So often in the scriptures, Jesus uses children to teach us the core of his message. When the disciples get into circling the issues, Jesus puts a child before them, telling them that in order to recognize and accept his message, they need to come to him with the heart and mind of a child. Would that we could hold on to a measure of that child-like transparency, as we move through the disappointments, betrayals, hurts and physical changes that come with adulthood.
A story, which I am sure you may have heard, brings this out clearly, highlighting what is one of our basic needs: human touch. Mom put little Emily to bed when shortly thereafter she cries out: “Mom, please come upstairs. It is too dark up here and I am afraid.” This is the first of many repeated calls and pleas on Emily’s part. Finally, in desperation, Mom tells Emily gently but firmly: “Emily, you know that God is with you, so you have no reason to be afraid.” Emily’s firm and quick response reflects the transparency and sensitivity of a child: “I know that, Mom, but God doesn’t have skin!” No wonder Jesus gave us children as role models again and again.
Viewed as a spirituality of wholeness, wellness becomes more a process than a state. It would seem that once one achieves a wellness objective, another goal or set of choices presents itself for consideration. Elie Wiesel tells the story of a rabbi who has said that when we cease to live and go before our Creator, the question asked of us will not be why we did not become a messiah, a famous leader or one who solves the great mysteries of life. The question will be simply: Why did you not become you, the fully active, realized person that only you had the potential of becoming?
Wellness spirituality is a way of living, a life-style that views life as purposeful and seeks out life-sustaining and life-enriching options to be chosen freely – and that sinks its roots deeply into spiritual values and/or [our] specific religious beliefs. (John Pilch)
The late Eric Doyle, OFM, tells us that not everything about Francis of Assisi was attractive. His grossly rigorous treatment of his body is an aspect of his character that could leave one feeling uneasy. Though Francis apologized to his body at the end of his life, it hardly makes good the excesses he committed against it.
I encourage you, my brothers, not to wait until the end of your life to befriend and respect your body, but rather, to reflect now on the above and to ask yourselves the question: Am I not responsible, then, to reverence my body by keeping it healthy and whole in the deepest sense of being well?
- Doyle, Eric, OFM, St. Francis & the Song of Brotherhood and Sisterhood, Franciscan Institute Publications, St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1997.
- Fischer, Kathleen, Winter Grace, Upper Room Books, Nashville, 1998.
- Pilch, John, Ph.D., “Wellness Spirituality” (article revised in 1998).
- Rohr, Richard, OFM, Near Occasions of Grace, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y., 1993.
- Sulmasy, Daniel, OFM, MD, The Healer’s Calling, Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah, N.J., 1997.
Vicki Masterpaul, OSF, resides at St. Elizabeth Motherhouse, Allegany, N.Y., and can be contacted there or at her e-mail address: email@example.com.