Defining "Spirituality"

What is spirituality? This is a popular topic in nursing schools, clinical settings, and many large healthcare systems. In a culture that embraces tolerance and questions absolute truth, Christian nurses may feel uncertain about giving spiritual care consistent with their beliefs.

Author Susan Salladay tackles this issue in her free article, "Confident Spiritual Care in a Postmodern World," from the Journal of Christian Nursing, April – June 2011.

"Contemporary nursing often understands spirituality as a focus on the inner self and feelings of connectedness to a higher being, nature, or a greater purpose," Susan writes. "Generic understandings of spirituality apply to patients of any religious tradition (or none) and resonate with nurses in today's postmodern worldview. This type of spirituality appears both broad and broad-minded."

This presents a conflict for Christian nurses who try to reconcile this view of spirituality with the teaching of Jesus. Susan exhorts us to be sensitive to postmodern perceptions without being intimidated by them.



The central issue, it seems to me, is how care-givers -- doctors, social workers, counselors, etc., not just nurses -- are to pursue their respective professions in the context of a diverse, pluralistic society that protects and tolerates a wide spectrum of ideologies and world-views. Say what you will in terms of adverse criticism of the postmodern outlook, at the end of the day, that outlook, whatever it's shortcomings, does support and underwrite many political and cultural virtues we all, Christian and non-Christian, believer and skeptic, cherish: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of (and from) religion. How would these civic, political, and cultural virtues fare in the (at least implicitly) Christian theocracy advocated in the article? Nurses who try to administer evangelism along with patient care place themselves in the awkward position, ethically, of using their dominant position as care-givers to leverage their patients' weakness and vulnerability -- after all, they're sick or they wouldn't be patients -- for ideological advantage. Of course, no nurse worthy of the profession would hand out paperback New Testaments or evangelistic tracts with patients' meds, but the conflict I refer to can take other, subtler forms. First, do no harm. JRC

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