July 8, 2020

Theology of Nursing: What Is Theology of Nursing?

Have you ever wondered why people in dire circumstances cry out to God? Have you ever walked into a patient’s room only to find him engaged in a religious observance? Have you ever had a colleague tell you what really drew her to nursing was the prospect of alleviating suffering of all kinds, including spiritual? Why has nursing, and health care in general, been connected historically to religion and spirituality? I’d like to explore these and many more issues in a new ongoing series of posts and other content I’ll call simply Theology of Nursing. Please join me.

I view my life through the lens of theology as a form of ministry in response to my Creator.

In this first installment of Theology of Nursing, I’ll discuss what I mean by a theology of nursing. As I’ve mentioned before, some of the reasons I’ve previously wanted to attend seminary are the same as reasons I entered nursing. I attribute this similarity to the fact that I view my life through the lens of theology as a form of ministry in response to my Creator. I know there are many people who would not see that connection in their own lives, but it is one of the most important realities in mine.

Because of this connection, I have always been interested in the meaning of holistic and person-centered nursing care and in models of nursing that account for religion and spirituality. During nursing school, I had the opportunity to work with a fellow student on a project related to nursing care of Jewish patients and spent some practicum time at a historically Jewish nursing home. My nursing leadership practicum was spent with a Southern Baptist pastor, discussing issues related to enhancing the effectiveness of existing pastoral and spiritual care ministries through insights from nursing. While I have not moved in the direction of faith community nursing in my career, I have always striven to retain my enthusiasm for the religious and spiritual aspects of nursing.

So, what is a theology of nursing? One answer may be found by asking the question more broadly: What is a theology of anything? The derivation of the word theology brings to mind “God talk” or speech about God. Terms ending in -ology often refer to the study of or scholarly pursuits related to what is referred to in the prefix. To say that a theology is “of” something is to specify the kinds of connections to be drawn. So, a theology of nursing is essentially talk about or the study of God in relation to nursing.

What does theology have to do with nursing? Quite a lot, actually. How could nursing and theology not be connected? Ultimate reality and the ultimate good of humanity are woven together in the fabric of the universe. They’re connected by the existence and activity of a Creator. The work of nursing is performed to promote the flourishing of humans as creations of God. This notion is the reason for the impulse in some models of nursing to set the spiritual dimension on an even footing with the physiological, psychological, and social dimensions of the patient. From the perspective of Abraham Maslow’s commonly cited hierarchy of needs, the spiritual dimension of self-actualization is seated at the pinnacle of the pyramid of human needs.

Theology of Nursing will be an ongoing series of blog content through which I hope to develop a deeper understanding of diverse theological issues as they relate to nursing. I hope it will be of interest to all who are interested in the innumerable connections between theological and philosophical issues and the field of nursing, whether nurses or otherwise. Please join me for this exploration. It should prove to be fruitful and potentially life-changing.

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