Book Review: Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body

Healing Of Soul, Healing Of Body: Spiritual Leaders Unfold the Strength & Solace in Psalms

Author: Edited By Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, CSW A Project of the Jewish Healing Center

Publisher: Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing

115 pages, ISBN 1-879045-31-1, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

In the “How To Use This Book” section, the purpose of this little volume is stated: “This book is intended to help you—struggling with illness or helping someone who is—derive spiritual healing from Psalms” (p. 11). Accordingly, the focus then is on what the late 18th century, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov referred to as the ten “healing psalms,” they are: Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150. Readers will find helpful, practical suggestions on how to use these psalms.

In the “Introduction” chapter, Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub provides an overview of who Rabbi Nachman was, and the ten different kinds of songs found in these ten “healing psalms.” Each song has a corresponding Sefirot… “of the Kabbalah, the mystical attributes through which the Creator brought the universe into being. These Ten Sefirot are called “Direct Light,” shining from the Creator to the world” (p. 19). For example, one type of song is called a Niggun, “Melody,” and its corresponding Sefir is Hessed, “Lovingkindness.” In “Notes To Introduction,” there is a list of all ten Songs and corresponding Sefir.

Ten rabbis from four denominations—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstruction—each write one of the chapters; providing a wide range of insights and approaches to these psalms.

The structure of each chapter is as follows: A Hebrew and English translation of the psalm, along with a commentary on it.

For this reader, the most helpful chapter was by Rabbi Maurice Lamm, commenting on Psalm 105. Rabbi Lamm offers several insights regarding the importance of songs and singing to facilitate communion with God and healing if not of the body, then of the mind and soul. For example: “The word shir, meaning song, also derives from shur, meaning insight. When we sing we raise our souls to God, and we gain insight into Him” (p. 83). I think this emphasis on singing songs regardless of our situation is most timely in our day and age, since very few people seem to sing anymore—one wonders if they are the poorer in health as a consequence.

In addition to this volume’s chapters, there is information about each of the contributors, suggested resources for further reading, helpful organizations, information about the Jewish Healing Center, and Jewish Light Publishing and several of their publications.

 

 

Rabbi Sacks’s commentary on Leonard Cohen’s song

One of my favourite contemporary Jewish scholars and rabbis is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In this brilliant commentary on Leonard Cohen’s recent song, shortly before he died, “You Want It Darker,” Rabbi Sacks points out several references in the song to the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish tradition. The moment I heard Leonard Cohen’s song, I was astounded by it’s sobering tragedy and beauty. Although Cohen dabbled in other faiths, I think he died a faithful Jew. He was a contemporary Job, having lots of unanswered  questions of God, and facing suffering, and moved by the suffering and evil in the world to continue writing songs and singing them, and in the darkness and hatred of the world, letting light shine and love reaching out to make a difference in the lives of others. In his lover’s quarrel with God, he could still die singing Hallelujah.

Together in Christ: Lutherans & Catholics Commemorate the Reformation

As both Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and perhaps some of the other denominations of Christendom celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, there are several events and projects that have been undertaken, and/or will come into fruition. Below is the first introductory video by Lutheran pastor and professor, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Anderson. The series of videos are titled: “Together in Christ: Lutherans and Catholics Commemorate the Reformation, 2017.

Book Review: Leaving North Haven

leavingnorthhavenLeaving North Haven: The Further Adventures Of A Small-Town Pastor

Author: Michael L. Lindvall

Publisher: New York & Berkeley: The Crossroad Publishing Company, A Crossroad Carlisle Book, 2002

251 pages, ISBN 0-8245-2013-0, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

In this sequel to Good News From North Haven, the Reverend Michael L. Lindvall continues to tell his heartwarming stories of many of the characters in his first novel.

The Reverend David Battles has now served Second Presbyterian Church for some ten years. He hadn’t expected to stay that long. He has learned much in those ten years. Yet, it is with a humble heart that he observes: “In these last ten years, I have come to know that I know less than I once did, but I do know this, just this: to see anything that matters, you must always bring two things to your looking—attention and love” (p. 23).

One character readers may remember is Minnie MacDowell, who had a fall and broke her elbow, was suffering from Parkinson’s and believed she was dying. On at least three occasions, she had gone through the ritual of having Reverend Battles ask her the question, “Are you prepared to die?” Then he was to read the twenty-third Psalm and pray the Lord’s Prayer. After this, she was to close her eyes turn her head to the window and pass away (p. 25). This ritual reminds me of a parishioner of mine who asked me every time I visited her: “Pastor, why am I still here? Why doesn’t the Lord take me home?”

The Reverend Battles, reflecting on if it was time to move on after ten years has this to say: “The town has come to be an unlikely home for us, but we can hardly stay forever. The hard truth is that in a year or two, maybe five on the outside, the church won’t be able to pay a minister a full-time salary.” (p. 38). This reality, of course, is an all-too-familiar one for many a mainline Protestant clergyperson serving in a rural and small-town parish.

In one of his adventures Reverend Battles thought he’d shot a ten-point buck deer. He had placed his gun triumphantly on the antlers, and one of the Wilcox brothers was about to take a picture when the buck suddenly came to life, got up, and ran away with the gun still in his antlers.

Then there is the young boy, James Corey, who is fascinated by a momma killdeer.

There is also the prophetic-like eccentric, Ivar Johanson, a bachelor, everyone is curious about his mysterious building project of Redi-Mix cement and chicken wire.

In the concluding chapter the Reverend Battles is celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, which was also his last Sunday at Second Presbyterian. Something surprises them and gets them laughing on that solemn day.

Those who love the culture and tales of small-towns and their churches will enjoy this novel. Clergy and laity alike will laugh, cry, and be edified by these tales of God’s loving grace.

Book Review: Over The Mountains

Over The Mountains: A Story Based on The Second Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren and other contemporary records

Author: Compiled by Eileen Robertshaw

Publisher: Walden, NY: The Plough Publishing House, 2012

184 pages, plus maps and an addition entitled: The Hutterite Mission Machine by Dean Taylor & Jake Gross

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

I’ve not read much Hutterite history. However my sister and brother-in-law who own a business, have numerous Hutterite colonies as their customers. A Hutterite customer gave this volume to them, and they passed it on to me.

Over The Mountains chronicles the life of Hutterites in the eighteenth century from Austria and eastern European countries such as today’s Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Rumania, and Ukraine. As the title suggests, it focuses on a flight of a group of Hutterites from Transylvania from the persecution and conversion tactics of Delphini, a Jesuit priest, sent by Empress Maria Theresia to do away with the Anabaptists. The flight was from Transylvania over the Carpathian Mountains into Wallachia, contemporary Rumania. Later they would emigrate from Rumania to Vishenka, Ukraine and Radicheva, Russia.

The work highlights a recurring cycle. The Hutterites because of their beliefs in communitarian living, based on Acts 2:42-47, pacifism, and re-baptizing those who were baptized as infants; they were regarded as heretics by other Christians, were persecuted, and invading enemy Turks plundered and destroyed their property. They were offered the opportunity to recant and return to the Roman Catholic and sometimes Lutheran churches. When they refused, they were imprisoned, even beaten, children were taken from their parents, and families were separated from one another. The Hutterites then sought out other countries where religious freedom would honour their way of life. Princes and other wealthy landowners from such countries would promise them religious freedom, and then they would immigrate. Whenever the civic or religious authorities of that land began to persecute them; or a war tax was imposed on the Hutterites; or they were expected to serve in the military; or the land on which they lived was disputed because of war; the recurring cycle would begin again.

One of the developments amongst the Hutterites was an underground communications system whereby one or more would secretly travel to visit their imprisoned family or community members, and then return with news as to their circumstances.

Periodically there would be disagreements in the community whether or not to observe all of Sunday as a day of worship and rest; and what type of prayer was permissible.

According to The Hutterite Mission Machine, Hutterite missionary ministers met in 1527 at Augsburg, Germany for what came to be known as the Martyr’s Synod. At this meeting, the focus was on evangelism and missions; and the missionaries divided up certain regions of Europe and agreed on where each missionary would go. Of the 60 missionary ministers who attended the Synod, only two were still alive five years later.

This is an interesting fact for at least two reasons. First, it underscores the priority and commitment to missionary work among the Hutterites in the Reformation era; as well as the courage and faith of the 58 missionaries who were willing to be martyred for what they believed was the work Christ had given them. Second, it is quite a contrast with contemporary Hutterites here in Canada, who seem to have given up on evangelism and missions.

This volume would be most beneficial to those interested in eighteenth century Hutterite history.

 

 

Book Review: Good News from North Haven

goodnewfromnorthhavenGood News from North Haven: A Year In The Life Of A Small Town

Author: Michael L. Lindvall

Publisher: New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, A Crossroad Carlisle Book, 2002

189 pages, ISBN 0-8245-2012-2, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Reverend Michael L. Lindvall was born and grew up in small-town Minnesota. He developed a love for the stories told by folks living in such communities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the stories he tells in this novel are set in North Haven, Minnesota and, at the very least, are implicitly autobiographical. The storyteller in this novel is Reverend David Battles, the minister of Second Presbyterian Church—and Lindvall himself is a Presbyterian minister.

The novel begins with a brief history of First and Second Presbyterian congregations—the former lost their building to a fire, and most of the members subsequently joined Second Presbyterian. As the novel unfolds, Reverend Battles is keen to tell what he refers to as “tales of grace” revealed in the “things that happen” in daily dramas (p. 19).

In his compelling narrative style, Lindvall introduces us to a host of eclectic and eccentric characters—similar to the sinner-saints we clergy meet in our parishes. There are: the “intractable, intransigent, unmovable…iron butterfly” Alvina Johnson, who is skeptical about this year’s Christmas Pageant after directing it for four decades; the inactive Roman Catholic barber who confides in Reverend Battles about growing up with an abusive dad; Reverend Battles learning that the little things in life like reading a bedtime story to one’s kids and kissing them good night are important “…because the mark a man or woman makes on this world is most often a trail of faithful love, and quiet mercies, and unknown kisses” (p. 37); Carmen Krepke the rebellious young biker-woman who had a vision of Jesus; the wise patriarch of Second Presbyterian, Angus MacDowell; the single-minded boat-builder Lamont Wilcox, and many more.

The novel is also worthwhile for its humorous stories of Reverend Battles’ “short trip” on Easter Sunday while climbing the stairs to the communion table with the offering; Reverend Mitchell Simpson’s comments which he thought were spoken in private, but were heard by the congregation because his cordless microphone was turned on, when he thought he had turned it off; when soprano choir member, Emma Bowers’ spiked high-heeled shoe got tightly lodged into the heating grate, when choir member, Elsie Johnson was “raptured” during a recessional hymn, and more.

The final heart-warming story is the baptism of single mother, Tina Cory’s son, James; the whole congregation “stands with” James during the baptism as an act of love, acceptance and grace.

I highly recommend this delightful novel to the general reader, and especially to the clergy who serve in small-town and rural churches. The Reverend Lindvall shares a great deal of his folksy wisdom, insights and humour in these stories that instruct and inspire.

Spirituality & Wholeness Workshop 2015

On September 11, 2015, I attended a Good Samaritan Society Workshop with keynote speaker Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., titled: “The Good Samaritan and the Giver’s Glow: The Paradox of the Simple Act of Giving.”

Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D. is the best-selling author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, in addition to Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, and his work with Alzheimer’s outlined in The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer’s Disease: Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying. Dr. Post has worked at the University of Chicago Medical School, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and is currently at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, where he is the Founding Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. Dr. Post has received the Pioneer Medal for Outstanding Leadership in HealthCare from the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network and the Kama Book Award in Medical Humanities from the World Literacy Canada.

In 2001 he founded the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, a free-standing non-profit whose goal is to research and distribute knowledge on selfless love. You can visit his website at: http://www.stephengpost.com and http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org

Dr. Post gave four talks, with the following titles and outlines: “Rx: It’s Good to be Good” Dr. Post introduces his philosophy of intentional giving. Discussing the positive effects it has on happiness, health, creativity and longevity.

“The Ten Ways of Love, Giving and Flourishing” Learn a simple way to apply the philosophy of intentional giving in your everyday life, using the ten ways to love.

“Who Benefits From Compassionate Care?” Dr. Post shows how resident care as well as their health improves with compassionate care and how living with the philosophy can prevent depression and burnout in healthcare professionals.

“Hope, Love and Caring for the Deeply Forgetful” Discover how applying compassionate care can help caregivers to recognize enduring self-identity within those with dementia. Discuss the ethical issues involved in caring for individuals with various forms of dementia, through the stages from diagnosis to dying.

One of the opening bits of information that Dr. Post shared with us was artist Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule.” He pointed out that it consisted of people from various racial and religious backgrounds and ages. Observing their faces, one is given the impression of a sense of peace and well-being. Such outward reflection of peace can also influence the well-being of others.

Dr. Post pointed out that the words medicine and meditation come from the same root medi, which means balance. Life and health is about balance.

The biblical concept and practice of love is now being confirmed by scientific research. According to Michael McCullough in Beyond Revenge, 2008, “When we help others we cannot maintain a vengeful attitude.” According to P. Wink & M. Dillon, In the Course of a Lifetime, 2007: “300 pre-teens in the Bay area followed every ten years since the 1920s. The one third who identified contributing to humanity as important were healthier and happier 50 years later, protected from depression & some physical illnesses.” In AA: The Big Book, p. 20: “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help their needs.”

Dr. Post said that research has been done on the cause of Schizophrenia, and it is now being viewed as connected with experiences of separation anxiety. He mentioned that environmental changes can cause separation anxiety—for example, when a person graduates from school and moves into a workplace.

President Abraham Lincoln suffered from melancholy and depression, and once said: “When I do good I feel good: When I do bad I feel bad.” Dr. Post pointed out that, from his own experiences, it does not necessarily follow that when you do good or love others or propose projects for others to do good and love others that it will go easy for you. People will resist you and crosses still find you.

One of Dr. Post’s favourite definitions of care/love comes from Harry Stack-Sullivan: “When the happiness, security and well-being of another person matters to you, you care for that person. When these things are as real or more real to you than your own, you love that person.” According to Stack-Sullivan: “Love cures mental illness.”

In study by Howard Brody & Franklin G. Miller, “Lessons from recent research about the placebo effect,” in The Lancet, Vol. 375, 2010, pp. 686-695: “a warm interpersonal relationship independently” adds “substantial therapeutic benefit” in the placebo effect. According to WB Malarkey, DK Pearl, JK Kiecolt-Glaser, R Glaser, “Influence of academic stress and season on 24-hour concentration of ACTH, Cortisol and Beta-endorphin,” Psychoneuroimmunology, Vol. 20, 1995, pp. 499-508: “Abrupt dismissive interactions elevate stress and slow wound healing.”

According to JW Mack, et al. “End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life,” J of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 28 (no. 7), 2010, pp. 12-3-8: “Compassionate communication with family members whose loved ones are dying decreases anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and decreases use of the ICU at the end of life.”

During Dr. Post’s discussion on healthy aging and Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention, he suggested that the following factors may be significant for some: Diet (fruits, vegetables), exercise, social and intellectual engagement, avoid protracted stress (possible role of spirituality), walk peacefully with friends to a Greek restaurant (i.e. the Mediterranean diet) and then hit the library to read and meditate.

In Dr. Post’s “Alzheimer’s & Grace,” First Things 2004, he offers the following wisdom: “As caregivers, we should talk even to the most cognitively disabled, calling them by name (which, sometimes surprisingly, may come). We should speak with a warm and calm voice, with a joyful facial expression, bending down to make eye contact, communicating with them rather than around them. We can use pictures, music, hymns, Scripture, poetry, meaningful symbols, and short simple prayers.”

I agree with Dr. Post 100% on these practices. It has been my experience as a chaplain working with Alzheimer’s and dementia residents that they respond the best with music. Often music calms them, reduces fear and anxiety, gives them peace and contentment, and even helps them to express themselves verbally in a more lucid way. As Martin Luther once said: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”