In my over 80 years on planet earth, I have travelled across nations of the world and have related to different cultures, religion, and traditions. I have also been able to examine the conflicts that have often developed between the interpretations and understanding of all the above in relation to spirituality. In this four-part essay I will examine the conflicts that have been developed by man. And tell some personal stories that inspired this essay and I am doing so with the freedom of mind and soul.
In the mid-80s, I was working for an International Organization and got promoted to become the regional director for Africa operating from UK. Following my promotion, I was required to carry out a full medical examination because of the many African countries that were likely to become my temporary home. When I walked into the medical centre where I was sent to as a first timer, I saw a sign that caught my curiosity. The sign read ‘We can cure but, we can’t heal’ and that was how a riveting conversation with myself started. I sought to understand the difference between curing and healing as well as, to understand the difference between medical science, spiritual science, and religious science.
My research and curiosity led me to the Declaration of Geneva that stipulated ‘the duties and obligations of those in medical profession. It contains The Physician’s Pledge that doctors swear, vowing to do all they can to ensure the well-being of their patients and share their medical knowledge for the benefit of the patient and advancement of healthcare.
My understanding, therefore, is that curing is based on science and the ability of the medical professionals to analyze symptoms and find causes and solutions to them in compliance with the declaration. On the question of healing, my understanding of this particular quote referred to above, ‘We cure but, we can’t heal’ must be a contradiction between one’s soul and one’s spirit, sometimes confusing one for the other.
I think it was Chinua Achebe that once said that when people gather to play in a square during moonlight, they do so not because they cannot see the moonlight from their homes but because of the spiritual effect it has on everyone listening to folklore, dancing, and singing.
For many years, the conversation with myself continued on this unique but interesting topic because if a patient is cured but not healed, whose responsibility is it to bring the patient to good health, because the driving inspiration of a patients’ visit to a medical practitioner is to not only cure the ailment but to bring them to good health. Therefore, my research all over the country and beyond revealed that a good number of institutions referred to as religious healing businesses make claims to the power to sometimes cure and heal. It is particularly important therefore for a full and verifiable documentation to be done on curing and healing by these institutions.
I recall an incident that happened recently where an aggrieved man went to a pastor to complain about a person who defrauded him and the pastor on learning this prayed for him, sending the Holy Ghost fire to the ‘enemy’. A few days later, it was reported that the residence of the ‘enemy’ had been burnt by fire. Instead of proper investigation as to the cause of the fire, people who had heard of the initial problem assumed it was the fire that the pastor had sent and flooded his church with their troubles. The pastor became known an avenger of sorts against their enemies. As a result of my background in science and innate curiosity, I decided to look further into the matter but the religious leader refused to cooperate with me even when I offered to publicize the story in my weekly column regardless of the outcome of the investigation. He perceived it as a ploy for me to steal his intellectual property.
Since a good population of our people all over the country and beyond resort to special prayers for healing, it is only natural for one to want to understand the dynamics of this practice of healing beyond medical science because, this healing sometimes transcends the superficial or physical healing/‘Curing’ that is done in the medicine. Most people search for healing of not just the body, but the soul.
This brings me to another story of a man who had struggled to bring up his two sons as doctors; years later after retirement, he and his wife resorted to spirituality and immersed themselves in it. Sometime later, the man got sick and when his son, now a certified Doctor adamantly told his parents to get a proper medical check-up and diagnosis, his mother insisted that the holy water she had been using was working and the man was getting better.
As time went by, the man got worse that he decided to call his son. After listening to his father’s symptoms, the doctor son resolved to visit him after his morning round. Before his visit, the mother called and told him not to bother as she had administered the spiritual water and it had relieved the father’s illness, putting him to sleep. The son decided to still go see his father anyway and on getting home, he realized that the man was not sleeping, but dead.
I wonder what would have been if the son had gotten home earlier or the parents had taken the advice of the son and went to the hospital. Here, I think there was a need for both spiritual healing as well as the orthodox cure the hospital would proffer. In this case, spirituality did not save the father.
The question remains that, these individuals that perform these miracles of healing out of medical science, are they more in touch with their spirituality than the rest of the world and if they are, how do we document it so others who have and do not know could learn from them?
When I started dating in my 20s, I introduced a girlfriend to a cousin of mine who warned me that she could only be a friend but I should not consider marrying her because people from my village do not marry from hers. I asked to know the reason and he said it had always been that way for centuries and then he told me of a few cases of marriages of those who had ignored the stigma and how these marriages had ended tragically. Between that time and now, which is over 50 years ago, there have been marriages between my village and that village, and they have ended in a tragic way. I am curious about the circumstances that have led to the tragic endings. When I come to a conclusion, I would likely update my readers about it.
In the same vein, there are traditional institutions or powerful individuals that can place a curse or a spell. A recent incident happened in Benin where the Oba placed a curse on human traffickers in a village. The Charm used in placing the curse had not seen sunlight for 800 years. After this, the guilty residents of the village and individuals were said to have begun to experience strange incidents related to the curse.
Next week, I will tell of more stories and experiences that science cannot explain and those that spirituality failed to heal. With that, I leave a quote from Emperor Haile Selassie I:
‘Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply a way of life, pure and original as given by the Most High. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe, and each other.’