REVIEWED BY FR. JAMES BRESNAHAN, SJ, JD, PhD
Aging, Spirituality, and Pastoral Care: A Multi-National Perspective
Elizabeth MacKinlay, James W. Ellor, and Stephen Pickard, eds.
Haworth Press, Binghamton, NY, 2001, 190 pp., $39.95, $24.95 (paperback)
This book, which also appeared in 2001 as two consecutive issues of the Journal
of Religious Gerontology, is a collection of 12 essays followed by a brief
afterword. Of the dozen authors, one is from Scotland, two are from the United
States, and the others, including the three editors, are all from Australia.
Some are Protestants, others Catholic. The perspectives from which they examine
the challenges of aging and of caring for the aging range from the explicitly
theological to the (primarily) psychological to the practical (studies of nursing
care). The essays' style and content also vary, ranging from the academic
marshaling of opinions to interpretative narratives to poetic musings on the
experience of aging.
The essays are divided into two sections. The first includes essays on the
"ethical, theological and biblical dimensions" of the aging process
itself as we have come to know it in our own era, when an increasing number
of people survive into old age and deal with various kinds of chronic illness.
The essays of the second section attend to the pastoral challenges involved
in dealing with the aging.
Three essays were of particular interest to this reviewer. The first, by Melvin
Kimble, PhD, is called "Beyond the Biomedical Paradigm: Generating a Spiritual
Vision of Ageing." The other two, both by Elizabeth MacKinlay, one of the
book's editors, are "Understanding the Ageing Process: A Developmental
Perspective of the Psychosocial and Spiritual Dimensions" and "The
Spiritual Dimension of Caring: Applying a Model for Spiritual Tasks of Ageing."
In all three essays, caregivers are urged to recognize and respond to spiritual
developments characteristic of many aging persons, to their spiritual accomplishments
as well as their spiritual needs and longings. In the first of her two pieces,
MacKinlay describes a study of nurses who, in the course of their work, came
to acknowledge and deal with the spiritual — as distinct from the psychosocial — in
their patients. Doing so involves a wider than usual understanding of "spirituality"
in today's Western cultures, in which spirituality is by no means found
only in those aging persons who belong to churches, synagogues, or temples.
In her second essay, MacKinlay enumerates six spiritual themes identified in
a study of independent living older adults. These themes express various aspects
of the search, which many aging people conduct as death approaches, for meaning
in life and in relationships.
Other essays, especially "Through a Glass Darkly: A Dialogue between Dementia
and Faith" by Malcolm Goldsmith, provide valuable insights into ways to
interpret and respond to the deeply troubling aspects of dementia in the aging.
This is a collection well worth exploring, although the variety in the approaches
in these essays will not please everyone.
Fr. James Bresnahan, SJ, JD, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Medical Ethics and Humanities and Medicine
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Copyright © 2004 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.