In any given year, there are just a couple of books that stand out for me in the “I must keep this book near me as long as I live” category, and a half-dozen of mine from over the last several years are included here. As a clergyperson working closely with parish nurses, I am always reading books in the “healing and wholeness” category. Those listed below have been tremendously influential and helpful in my work and personal life.
1. Florence Nightingale: The Making of a Radical Theologian by Val Webb (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2002).
2010 will be the 100th anniversary of the death of Florence Nightingale, but this misunderstood woman is still an important figure for us today. Valerie Webb points to the tremendous interest of Nightingale in theology, as part of the extensive body of her written work, now being collected and published in sixteen volumes by sociologist Lynn McDonald, PhD, at the University of Guelph, Ontario. Some of Nightingale’s writings were received to wide acclaim, such as her small work, Notes on Nursing, which was intended to instruct the typical English mother or governess on the care of the family. Others, such as her 829-page manuscript on theology, Suggestions for Thought to the Searchers after Religious Truth, and which was printed for circulation only to a few professional and personal colleagues, remained generally unnoticed, yet her writings included comments such as this, “When very many years ago I planned a future, my one idea was not organizing a hospital but organizing a religion.” I found this book so fascinating, my own doctoral project, “Nursing of the Spirit: A Theology of Parish Nursing in History and Story,” grew out of the seed first planted by Webb’s book.
2. Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer by Barbara Dossey (Springhouse, PA: Springhouse, 2000).
Barbara Dossey, PhD, RN, is a former president of the American Holistic Nurses Association and an engaging writer and speaker. This book, filled with photos and sketches from the Florence Nightingale Museum in London and other sources, along with a carefully researched history of Nightingale’s life and times, provides the most comprehensive, easily accessed record of Nightingale’s remarkable thoughts, actions, and legacy, showing that she was, indeed, a mystic, a visionary, and a remarkable healer, despite her own poor health. Again, as 2010 is the anniversary of her death (and this book provides a thoughtful analysis of what might have been the cause of Nightingale’s painful chronic illness—brucellosis, a disease which had not yet been identified in 1910), this would be a great year to buy anyone who loves spirituality and healing (as well as public health, classical Greek, or feminism) this fabulous book.
3. Souls in the Hands of a Tender God by Craig Rennebohm with David Paul (Boston, MA: Beacon, 2008).
The church is called to “preach, teach, and heal,” but often is ill-equipped to deal with mental illness. Given the numbers of individuals (not to mention families) who are dealing with some form of serious mental illness, the church must find ways to step up to the plate, through providing help in getting quality care, ministries of presence, respite, and basic understanding and acceptance. Rev. Rennebohm, a UCC clergyperson who was serving an inner-city church in the Pacific Northwest before training to become a mental health chaplain to care for the neighbors he found on his door, has written a profound theological treatise on ministering to those with mental health issues. Using stories “of the search for home and healing on the streets” of Seattle, he weaves together chapters that speak to us all: homeless, inner city, small town, or rural. He invites us to meet together with God who sees us beyond any illness or infirmity that we might have, and to reach out to others (who aren’t really so “other”) seeking a home in God’s healing, as well.
4. Surprises Around the Bend: 50 Adventurous Walkers by Richard A. Hasler (Augsberg, Minneapolis, 2008).
I have highlighted nearly every page of this book, which briefly profiles the lives of 50 people—physicians, poets, politicians, pilgrim, and prophets —(whom you probably mostly know) from the angle of their walking habits, which are fresh and surprising, and lead you to places you are delighted to go. If you ever needed encouragement to get up in the morning and go for a walk, this would be the book to provide it. Exercise with a spiritual purpose? That’s for me! I found this book meaningful as a devotional resource. Read a short chapter (they are all about three pages or so), and then go for a walk. Caution! Your life might change.
5. The Selfish Pig’s Guide to Caregiving by Hugh Marriott (London: Polperro, 2003).
I found this book in the little bookstore in the Friends’ Meeting House in London a couple of years ago, bought myself a cup of English tea and cried all the way through the book. Marriott’s experience in caregiving was forged on a nine-year journey with his wife, Cathie, who suffered and died from Huntington’s Disease. His book, laced with equal parts humor, wisdom, and exhaustion, was exactly what I, as a parent of a child with profound special needs, needed that day. It is probably what several other million people could use on any given day, as well. Marriott writes to encourage others who, without experience, training, or enough time or resources, sometimes feel overwhelmed by what they have come to in caring for a loved one. About those other “carers” who look like they are so much better at this, Marriott asks: “Did you really think that all those other carers were doing it because it’s what they always aspired to? Maybe they won the big prize in a competition? Or saved up for years so that they could take up this glamorous way of life?...Ha! The only difference between them and you is they’re a bit further ahead, that’s all.” Marriott goes on to offer much sage advice, gleaned from those further down the path, to encourage the growing number of caregivers, everywhere.
6. My Mother, Your Mother: Embracing “Slow Medicine,” The Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones by Dennis McCullough, M.D. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2008).
I haven’t actually quite finished reading this book, because it’s hard to read and think about what gerontologist Dennis McCullough reminds us is hard to read and think about, namely, addressing the reality that aging will kill us (if something else doesn’t first). We all will suffer some sort of illness or injury that will (either quickly or slowly) cause death, and the reality is that process will probably be fairly slow. McCullough urges us to spend time now to talk with and listen to our aging parents, and to consider what we learn in helping them seek and access desired treatment options as they age. If you only appropriate that from your reading, it’s worth the cost of the book. McCullough, however, also offers a glimpse into the world of a declining elderly person gleaned through his years of work in providing medical care in a wide variety of academic and community settings, and through the challenge of caring for his own mother. It is important to face reality and make necessary plans for difficult decisions, such as deciding when to stop driving at night, or at all, to talking about whether or not to accept invasive and painful treatment options which a senior may not be willing to endure. “Slow Medicine” gives adults information about, and time to think and plan for, the kind of treatment they want, in order to have the best possible quality of life as they age, with their families supportive and all on the same page.
Read the interview with Deborah Patterson>>
Rev. Dr. Deborah Patterson is executive director of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and author of Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations and The Essential Parish Nurse: the ABCs for Congregational Health Ministry. She works daily with parish nurses, pastors, and health professionals. Read her column, Ask Deborah>>