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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy
Spiritual Caregiving as Secular Sacrament: A Practical Theology for Professional Caregivers, Ray S Anderson

Spiritual Caregiving as Secular Sacrament: A Practical Theology for Professional Caregivers

Ray S Anderson, Jessica Kingsley, 2003, 192 pages, ISBN 1-84310-746-5, £15.95.

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Review by Revd Brian Allen

I was in a nursing home with the husband of a resident whilst he helped his wife with her lunch. He said he was there because he loved her and, having coped with her dementia for too many years on his own, wanted to be with her in the extreme stages of her illness. The relatives of another resident who had died recently joined us briefly and expressed the hope that his wife would soon be better. He replied that that was not possible. Recognising that as both a false hope to him but a necessary hope for them I made no comment. Later the bereaved relatives and I talked about how death can bring healing both to the departed and the bereaved.

There is only one specific reference to dementia in this book when Anderson tells the story of an 81-year-old man who kills his wife and then himself following her diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease. This is in a chapter entitled 'The Spiritual Power of Hope in Living with Disability'. Told to illustrate the essential relationship of hope to faith he asks why it is that so many who say they have faith have no hope. He goes on to offer three rules of thumb about hope, namely (1) don't try to give hope, (2) don't take hope away and (3) don't leave a person without hope. As I read this I recalled my recent encounter in the nursing home. This is not a book about theory: it is a book about life.

This volume is in the excellent Practical Theology Series published by Jessica Kingsley and under the general editorship of John Swinton of Aberdeen University who writes the Foreword. Ray Anderson is an American pastor and academic of many years standing. His starting point is (pre-) theoretical, arguing vigorously that practical theology has a particular end in view and therefore differs from the empirical (social) sciences. It is well worth sticking with his argument to see how it works out in practice. Early chapters with phrases in their titles such as 'Spiritual Praxis of Practical Theology', 'Integrative Gestalt of the Human Self', 'Ecological Matrix of the Human Person' and 'Social Ecology of Human Spirituality' might seem heavy going at times. Don't be put off! The reader is rewarded with highly relevant contemporary understandings of spirituality illuminating and illuminated by both Scripture and modern theologians and therapists.

Do you use 'Take care' as a form of farewell? I confess I do and I am sure I mean it. This book has made me re-examine what I mean by it, however! I promise you that it could do the same for you. Spirituality is essential to human ecology and self-care is essential to caring. This book comes highly recommended for anyone involved in the field of mental health care.

Revd Brian Allen (Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland Mental Health Trust Chaplaincy Team Leader) - reprinted with permission from the CCOA Dementia Group Newsletter April 2004

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