Book Review — Aging, Spirituality, and Pastoral Care: A Multi-National Perspective

September-October 2004


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.

Book Review - Aging, Spirituality, and Pastoral Care - A Multi-National Perspective

Copyright © 2004 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.