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Posted: March 11, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

The Sensuousness of the Spirit

?Can we be present for the moment when love comes out of hiding??

I spent yesterday morning sitting with my mother in a nursing center just outside Detroit. At the end of last summer she had a stroke, which was followed by a brain hemorrhage and surgery. She has been failing slowly ever since, and yesterday morning she couldn't talk very well and was more confused than usual. But the quiet morning hour was precious. You don't need words in order to be together.

I often say to audiences that I am against communication in marriage. People usually laugh, because we're supposed to communicate with people we're close to. But I think of marriage as a situation not unlike an hour with my mother suffering the aftermath of a stroke. To be with someone, you don't have to articulate your thoughts and feelings, and in fact sometimes it seems more effective just to sit and be.

Yesterday, the chaplain told me that she finds it difficult to find patients in her care who are able to read or even listen to reading. So she makes use of the sensuality of ritual ? the sounds, tastes, movements, touches, and aromas associated with liturgy. This way people who can't communicate or think still have access to rites that are important to them.

But it isn't only the dementia patient who benefits from the sensuality of certain spiritual practices. We are all in need of depth in our spiritual experiences, and the mind doesn't usually reach very deep. I'm the last person to speak against spiritual intelligence, but that kind of awareness sometimes has more precision and more impact when it arrives through our senses. This is one way to understand the theology of incarnation: Spirit becomes accessible to us through the body and by means of the senses.

During the Italian Renaissance, several theologians said that architecture is the most spiritual of the arts. When you sit in a real church and absorb the atmosphere, you don't have to think or try to achieve a high level of concentration. You only have to take in the spiritual tonality captured by the architect and the arts that adorn the place. Your job is to be open to the influx of meaning and emotion in the shapes and colors.

The modern approach to making buildings and roads is very conscious of speed, efficiency, and cost, but it is rarely sensitive to the spiritual needs of people. Yet this physical life around us has a spiritual impact, good or bad. We may end up being filled with the spirit of efficiency, which is a far cry from the spirit of creation and ultimate meaning. Yet there is no reason why our society couldn't be imbued with a profound spiritual quality in the things of daily life. You don't have to be sectarian or traditionally religious to contribute to the spiritual life of citizens.

The spirituality of everyday life is not to be found in the application of religious ideas to ordinary circumstances. Spirituality is inherent in the homemaking, service, labor, play, and community activity that is usually seen as mundane. Just as you need a special eye to see the beauty in nature, and not only its utility, so you need a special sense to perceive the spiritual in the ordinary. We all have this special sense, but we don't always use it.

Over the past few months I have learned many lessons from my quiet and distracted mother. Above all, I have learned that love comes out of hiding once the many words and ideas cease. She has always been a loving person, but now she is a holy person, a veritable center of grace and spiritual light. Maybe it's in the nature of things eventually to pass beyond language and concepts to the intelligence of the heart and the sensuousness of the spirit.

_____

Thomas Moore's latest book is The Soul's Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life. A former Roman Catholic monk and practicing psychotherapist, he is the best-selling author of Care of the Soul: Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life and Soul Mates: A Guide to Cultivating Life as an Act of Love.


This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, www.SpiritualityHealth.com. For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see www.SpiritualityHealth.com/subs. Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at www.caregivershome.com. Contact staff directly via email at ASKspirituality@spiritualityhealth.com.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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