About the creator of this page: Dr. Pector is a board-certified, actively practicing family physician. Spirituality and ethics have been a longstanding interest. Dr. Pector's medical practice is based on science, and she is NOT an "alternative" practitioner, although she has scientific resources about herbal and other complementary treatment approaches and occasionally will recommend them to patients. This page touches on common human concerns and is meant to be food for thought, and not a scholarly treatise on centuries of philosophical and religious thought. We hope you find some intriguing ideas here, and welcome you to share your own! These are eclectic reflections on faith, philosophy, ethics, etc. from an interested, semi-informed lay person. See also the Lost & Found page for some inspiring quotes (and pictures of beautiful stained-glass windows!) There is no intention to minimize or demean any person's religion.
From a spiritual standpoint, since the 1990s, Dr. Pector has weathered many personal challenges. These, plus the experience of treating patients from all ethnic and religious backgrounds for many illnesses, motivated her to read, research and reflect on the impact of spirituality among people of diverse viewpoints. Dr. Pector was raised Roman Catholic. During college, a professor challenged students to think critically about their faith. Heeding that advice, she decided during medical school to join a Lutheran congregation. She is now a member of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, an ELCA Lutheran Church in her community. As a spiritual person, Dr. Pector considers herself a member of the "priesthood of all believers" Martin Luther and others espoused (for other essays on this point, please see Grace Valley and Public Ministry and the Priesthood. )
Dr. Pector considers spirituality and medical practice to be separate but complementary channels to facilitate healing. She welcomes discussion of resources for healing ceremonies and rituals, since she has found and read some resources that may be of interest to spiritually inclined medical patients and caregivers.
May the Lord be with you and bless you in your journey through life, granting you wisdom, strength, and the peace that passes all understanding.
Disclaimer: This page, and any of Dr. Pector's spiritual activities, are not to be construed as part of her practice of medicine. Faith, religious beliefs and spirituality are personal matters. They are important in a wholistic approach to health, but do not constitute medical treatment. Likewise, statements made herein are not to be considered representative of any specific religion or theology, but are the personal views of Dr. Pector except where authors are quoted. She does not necessarily agree with all statements made by any cited authors.
The search for meaning Science and religion are separate disciplines. Science can answer "how, what, when, where, who" questions. It can sometimes even answer "why" some natural phenomena happen. As Bernard Baruch observed, "Millions say the apple fell but Newton was the one to ask why." The September/October issue of the Skeptical Inquirer had a thought-provoking discussion of the science-religion dichotomy. Paul Kurtz, in the March-April 2002 Skeptical Inquirer, states "The descriptive and explanatory functions of language are within the domain of science; the prescriptive and normative are the function of ethics...The domain of the religious, I submit, is evocative, expressive, emotive. It presents moral poetry, aesthetic inspiration, performative ceremonial rituals, which act out and dramatize the human condition and human interests, and seek to slake the thirst for meaning and purpose."
Schopenhauer said "Apart from man, no being wonders at its own existence." Many scientists, even if agnostic or atheist, express wonder and amazement at how the universe functions and how living beings are constructed. Humans seek to know the meaning of life, our purpose for existence in the universe. Faith, religion, philosophy, politics, ethics, art, music, superstition, shamanic (medicine man) healing traditions...these pursuits try to answer our yearning to understand our place in the grand scheme of life. Each person needs to work out his or her own answer to this eternal question. Those, especially agnostics or skeptics, who are intrigued by this discussion about the unique roles of religion, ethics, and science in life, can explore the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. From a more anthropological viewpoint, Sir James Frazer in the early 20th century made some intriguing observations on the role of magic and religion in human societies in The Golden Bough.
Regardless of which approach, agnostic or religious, you take toward life, we wish you a fruitful search and abundant validation of your meaning and worth in the world.
Creation, holiness, awe Creation myths and explanations exist within all traditions and also in science (e.g. the "big bang theory.") Robert Carneiro and others have discussed and collected origin myths. The Navajo creation story is particularly well-developed, and Dine Bahane will give you a very frank, somewhat sexually explicit account of the people's thoughts. In some ways it is reminiscent of Song of Songs or Hosea in the Hebrew/Christian Bible.
Most cultural traditions also have some concept of holiness and virtue. Cultures around the world have complex religious systems, often with a belief that the gods need to be appeased with offerings, good deeds or special rituals. Shamans or priests, chants, dances, herbs and anointings serve these sacred purposes throughout human culture.
It is healthy and sobering, regardless of your religious beliefs or lack of them, to maintain a sense of humility, wonder, curiosity, awe and perspective when contemplating creation, the world, our universe and our personal place in it. We're important...but standing beside mountains hundreds of millions of years old in the Western U.S. has made me quite cognizant of how short a period of time my own lifespan truly is. Life is short and precious, a holy gift.
Human nature and mind Humans are unique among animals in having developed language advanced enough to enable us to think and communicate about abstract matters. The psalmist asks, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:4) Faced with the vastness of the universe, we feel humble and insignificant. Nevertheless, mankind is endowed with meaningful power. Each person has some control over their immediate surroundings. How we choose to use our power is critical in determining our present and future course. Charles Lindbergh, who flew the first solo transAtlantic flight, said, "Above all I see the ability to choose the better from the worse that has made possible life's progress."
Many pundits have given their opinion on the nature of man. Thomas Jefferson declared "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Some authors exalt humanity: "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor," glowed Thoreau. Others are more sardonic: Alexander Hamilton said "Man is a reasoning rather than reasonable animal." "Man--a creature made at the end of the week's work when God was tired," wrote Mark Twain.
Certainly, our minds possess great influence. Milton observed in the 17th century that "The mind is its own place, and itself can make a heaven of Hell or a Hell of Heaven." Norman Cousins, who expounded on the healing role of humor and positive attitude, asserted that "The growth of the human mind is still high adventure, in many ways the highest adventure on earth." Humanism is a non-religious, approach to life which "affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives that lead to the greater good of humanity. For more on this approach to life, visit the American Humanist Association.
Meditation and prayer The contemplative traditions of Buddhism, Christianity and others have the goal of increased awareness of, and spiritually uniting with, the essence of divinity. Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed all received revelations in isolated places and spent private time in prayer. Beliefnet has some interesting links and discussions on prayer if this is a topic you find of interest.
Taking time to calm the mind and body and commune with God, nature, the universe, or all of the above, has been a component of many religious traditions. Achieving "numen"--oneness with the divine, "flow," or being "in the zone" are the aim of such practices. Monastic practices in Christianity and Buddhism, trance and chant traditions the world over, Native American sweat lodge ceremonies, Lamaze breathing techniques, and Western counseling instructions on relaxation and visualization all draw on the same principal of decreasing our physical and mental busy-ness and becoming peaceful.
There are strong ascetic traditions in many religions, and dreams and visions were common in the Middle Ages in the western world as signs or directives from God. The Prophet Joel, Joel 2:28-30 in the Bible said "Your young men will dream dreams, your old men will see visions." Works of Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Merton, Zen & other Buddhist writings, and many philosophers including Confuscius draw from the contemplative tradition. I invite you to explore those that appeal to you...there have been many great minds in history!
Prayer serves many purposes. Praise, awe, thanksgiving, confession and reconciliation, and petitions (for wisdom, guidance, consolation, a given outcome, or divine presence and blessing) are common reasons for prayer. I encourage you to make a dedicated time to reflect and/or actively pray with the deity of your choice, and above all to live life prayerfully as a spiritual person.
Ethics, morality & sin Plato and ancient Greeks believed in the existence of ideal forms of everything that exists in the physical world (see the U. of Wisconsin discourse on Platonic ideas). Systems of ethics set out ideals of personal behavior relative to other individuals or groups. Regardless of your personal religious or belief system, if any, I encourage you to work toward the highest intrinsic good: the best way to resolve moral dilemmas and lead a virtuous life. There are often professional ethical obligations that one must uphold; as a medical example, the AMA Principles of Medical Ethics.
The Bible talks much about the sinful nature of humanity. Genesis speaks of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and throughout the Old Testament there are repeated examples of God's patience with the fallible, straying Israelites. Many devout Christians, including such notables as St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis and Martin Luther, were keenly aware of their faults. They spent years doing penance, avoiding or overcoming immoral urges, and exhorting their followers not to overindulge the appetites of the physical body.
My personal belief is that God is patient, knows that we are imperfect, and is willing to support us in our efforts to achieve health and moderation. Those who approach God contritely with a sincere heart are promised forgiveness. Christians believe that Christ died once to forgive the sins of all who believed that God sent him into the world for that purpose. (John 3:16). Luther preached "justification by faith," rather than "justification by works." One only has to believe to be forgiven. It is impossible to achieve perfect observance of divine or human laws. Nevertheless, Christ did exhort his followers to reform evil ways, and do good. Other religions also call for people to strive toward the highest good and perfection, while realizing that human nature and earth are imperfect.
Some religious traditions have paid quite a bit of attention to sin. There are original sin, mortal and venial sins in the Catholic Church. Everyone's heard of the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Covetousness, Gluttony, and Lust. Those interested in a more comprehensive, multifaith look at the 7 Deadlies & other discourses on sin (pardon the profanity at the site) can explore deadlysins.com. Karl Menninger a quarter-century ago published "Whatever became of sin?," reviewed by a minister at the time of publication. An interesting Unitarian Universalist sermon on sin is probably closer to my own ideas. That which harms others, or harms one's health or well-being, is best avoided. The 12 steps recovery tradition encourages people to confess to themselves, and to another human being, their faults and transgressions. I do believe there is a place for confession as a way to begin healing through honesty. Once acknowledged, it is easier to face a failing and resolve to do something to correct it and improve one's character in the future.
Forgiveness walks hand in hand with sin and confession of sinfulness. It can be healing to forgive another whom you feel has injured you; this is part of the 12 step tradition, Christianity and most other religions. The Lord's Prayer asks God to "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Anger and grudges in the end only harm ourselves; the person whom we refuse to forgive often feels no distress whatsoever! If the person who harmed you is deceased, or estranged from you, writing a letter to them releasing your anger toward them can be a powerful and effective part of healing from significant trauma. This is something you may want to undertake with professional guidance.
Suffering All religions deal with the "problem of suffering." In essence, "Stuff happens." Neither Job nor all the books written about it since explain why it occurs; religious opinions & explanations vary, and I am not the one to debate their merits. Grace, and growth, are found in our response to suffering (both our own and that of others). An excellent book that helped me understand the Christian viewpoint is Gerald Sittser's A Grace Disguised. It is so well written that people of other faith traditions can readily appreciate the pure human insight into suffering. Our response is the one thing we have some control over. Wounds can be viewed as opportunities for healing. Enlightenment happens through poverty, misfortune and illness. Perhaps this is why poets and artists are so inspiring when they have faced great personal suffering.
Ecology The human race needs to pay more attention to how we treat the world we live in, and the people, animals and plants that inhabit it with us. Native American cosmogony (world views) can teach us much about living in harmony with nature. "To everything there is a time, and a purpose under heaven."
Thoreau, Emerson, and Walt Whitman in the 18th century and Rachel Carson and innumerable others in our own have described the importance of living with respect and harmony with nature. There are references to the natural world in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and most non-Western cultures.The increase in the number of endangered species and the rapid disappearance of rainforest are troubling. The United States uses a disproportionate amount of the world's natural resources and energy. Certainly this has helped make possible many positive advances, including the Internet and World Wide Web. Improvements in agriculture and medicine have made the sustenance of the world's current population possible. However, our world's resources are not inexhaustible. If we want humans to still be on the planet in a few hundred years, we need to learn to live in harmony with one another, and with the environment.
Unwise overuse of our planet's resources can lead to our own destruction due to ecological imbalance as surely, if not as swiftly, as a nuclear event. We don't want, in the name of "progress," to unwittingly destroy the potential remedies for human illness that now lie undiscovered in remote forests around the globe. 'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free. Let us be good stewards of our world: conserve, reuse, recycle, and endeavor to be wise and frugal consumers.
Final thoughts Physical and mental health depends on many things: diet, lifestyle, mental attitude and spirituality, as well as genetics and random events. I encourage you to take stock of your physical, mental and spiritual "ecology," and take good care of yourself and your environment.
According to Doug Smith in Healing the Wounded Healer, healing requires the healer to communicate a sense of honesty and authenticity, empathy (feeling with the client), and unconditional acceptance and validation of the other person as a human being. There is no quick fix for physical ailments, spiritual or psychological malaise, or our world's problems, but a healthy relationship with a trusted healer is certainly part of the key to personal health.
People in truly inhumane circumstances, including Nazi death camps, Pol Pot and Rwandan genocides, and the World Trade Center disaster among many others, have been able to find the heart to help their fellow man and do their small part to improve their surroundings. Work to do right, treat others as you would be treated, treat the least of your brothers as the embodiment of a divine spirit, and you can't go wrong.
May you find the strength within yourself to make the world a better place--for you and all around you.