For anyone who has been dreaming of greater collaboration among healing professions and working toward its accomplishment this book is a delight, not only because it lays out the progress of the interdisciplinary endeavor, but because it is a praxis of the results to date. In Aging and Spirituality physicians who have striven toward treatment of the whole person, nurses who have tended to spiritual needs, ministers who have accompanied people on their life journeys, social workers who have used therapeutic as well as resource skills, pastoral theologians who have theorized for the good of the community and spiritual companions who have listened with the heart's ears can see the human results of their work in the telling essays gathered at the service of the graying population.
The roster of essayists in this volume mirrors the interdisciplinary character of the work both within and among the authors. They are social workers, religious personnel, health care administrators, gerontologists, university and seminary professors, civil servants and policy makers. Their healing services to elders move them across a spectrum from theoretical research to concrete public policy. Providing a wonderful synthesis of pertinent work done over the last two or three decades, the editor presents a convenient and helpful context for the reader, weaving the threads of the overview so that the reader can enjoy the essays.
Chapter Twelve, "The Spiritual Life Review", is a case in point of the overall contribution of this book. This essay elicits continuing collaboration across the healing professions by inviting healing professionals to appreciate, and, in fact, to foster the important works elders are doing within themselves while other service personnel are working with them on more external issues. The skill involved in companioning elders through this process will become progressively more important as the United States population has a higher median age. While political debates around health insurance, tax issues, and personal responsibility with regard to health maintenance continue to affect elders, and need addressing, this chapter focuses on attending to the quality of life of elders as they review their own lives, their own work, their own relationships, and the needs for peace and reconciliation in their own inwardness before they come to the end of life.
Elders do a fine job in distinguishing between religion and spirituality; their similarities and their differences, having arrived at a point in life when they know what is important to them. In Chapter Two, however, Robert J. Best moves beyond that experience by providing considerations upon the spiritual role of the elder in the twenty-first century. He suggests a way for our culture to look upon its elders with respect and appreciation for the wisdom they provide in the total social fabric.
Most of the essays in Aging and Spirituality are devoted to spiritual care by distinct professionals or within distinct health care settings. The ease with which the results of theoretical and the results of hands-on experience dance together provides a flow and dynamic which render the reading at once informative and pleasurable. Having begun, in effect, with a history and context, the book ends by laying out continuing challenges in dealing with aging and spirituality in the United States. The recommended readings listed at the end of the book are particularly helpful for those who want to pursue in greater depth the concepts laid out by the authors in varying essays.
This book can be used as a text for healing professionals, most appropriately when these diverse professionals are gathered together in circles of mutual learning. It can be used for undergraduate or graduate classes within a university setting, e.g., social work, pastoral theology, counseling. For those medical schools with programs in Medical Humanities, it serves not only as a source of knowledge but an encouragement to medical professionals oriented toward whole health care across the life span. Adult study groups can profit by using Aging and Spirituality, particularly those which include members of the sandwich generation, those still raising their young while caring for their parents. Such a study would serve them not only in terms of data and support, but also in terms of approaching their own graying.