Statement from the Benefactor of Lectureship
The 2008 Thelma Shobe Lectureship
The Wisdom of
Daniel Sulmasy, OFM, MD
In The Healer's Calling: A Spirituality for Physicians and Other Health Care Professionals, Franciscan brother and physician Daniel Sulmasy teaches: "One can be happy in health care," his major theme being: "A career in health care can be a spiritual journey." Dr. Sulmasy defines spirituality as a broader concept than is religion. Spirituality is about one's relationship with the transcendent—with God—while religion consists of a shared set of texts, practices, and beliefs about the transcendent. He points out that while every individual may not have a religion as such, spiritual issues in the broader sense arise for practically everyone during the course of life. And while Dr. Sulmasy's frame of reference is the Christian tradition, his thesis will find common ground in other traditions as well.
Dr. Sulmasy counsels each person to remember how their journey began—that deep spiritual longing and sensing that there is something out there tugging at their very soul. He recommends: Surrender to the voice that calls. Trust it. Have faith for faith is first about trust in the transcendent, in God. Remember that spirituality is a relationship of love, and like any other relationship of love, spirituality takes time to develop. It waxes and wanes. It grows hot and cold. It sometimes needs healing and forgiveness. It requires commitment despite day-in-and-day-out drudgery. It requires time for intimate sharing. It requires attention. It requires a time for retreat and renewal.
Dr. Sulmasy did not use the term triad to describe the relationship between the healer, the patient, and the transcendent; however, the term is appropriate here, pointing out that true healing takes place only when the healer is related to the one seeking to be healed—through, in, and with a relationship to the transcendent. Their bond is their common humanity, their common mortality, and the grace God has given, individually, to each of them. The healing work in which caregivers are engaged is "deeply human."
Life is not intended to be easy and care giving, as life itself, is fraught with uncertainty to which Dr. Sulmasy quotes T.S. Eliot: "The demon of doubt . . . is inseparable from the spirit of belief." Dr. Sulmasy teaches that faithful trust is required in order to act in the face of uncertainty. The strength for such trust is spiritual. The best care givers are humble, uncertain at times, open to revision, honest with their patients, and honest with themselves.
All physicians, nurses, and caregivers need a quite time to be alone with God (or their relationship with the transcendent), to discover who they are in an authentic way as well as to discover who their patients really are. Thus, in their work, there is a necessity for retreat and renewal. The divine spark is in each individual. In one's retreat—in prayer, in meditation, in silence, or in creative activity—one may find one's way. (1)
Dr. Sulmasy is a teacher beloved by students and peers alike. We are deeply honored that Dr. Sulmasy has accepted the invitation to be the Second Shobe Distinguished Lecturer.
Thelma Shobe Cook
(1) Source for these notes: The Healer's Calling: A Spirituality for Physicians and Other Health Care Professionals by Daniel P. Sulmasy, OFM, MD, published by Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ.