Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist
Well, of course Luke would make an orderly account–after all, he was a physician (Colossians 4:14.) Now, Luke didn’t have to know ICD-10 billing codes, or deal with insurance companies, or even write chart notes, but he certainly would have had to keep his details straight.
One of the ways physicians for over 50 years have learned to keep their details straight is to use the format of a SOAP note, where S=Subjective, O=Objective, A=Assessment, and P=Plan. (You can always tell medical student notes, because they will actually write them with the S, O, A, and P in them. When we get a little more savvy, we simply write them in that format and leave out the acronym.) The SOAP note was the brainchild of Dr. Lawrence Weed, who first published about it in 1964. That said, it’s clear he simply codified what was a standard way of doing business in medicine, and you can see it when you read accounts of the healing stories in Luke.
Take, for instance, the demoniac in Luke 8:26-39:
S: Man seems possessed by demon.
O: Man runs around tombs naked; has been chained and shackled in past to no avail.
A: Jesus asks “What is your name?” and man replies, “Legion.”
P: Heal man by sticking demons into nearby pigs, run pigs off cliff into lake and drown pigs with demons inside.
Seriously, have some fun with this. Ok, the accounts mix up the S and O a little bit, but it’s not a medical chart, it’s literature. All the same, in all the healing stories, whether it’s the demoniac, or the woman with hemorrhages, or Jairus’ daughter, you can see the SOAP note, the orderly account of the incident or episode.
It’s not crazy to apply the SOAP note approach to any spiritual challenge or difficulty, to collect one’s prayer thoughts, and although P can certainly mean Plan, it can also mean Prayer…
S=How do you feel about what’s happening in your life? If God took notes, what would God put down as the quote describing your “chief complaint?” (Medical-speak for “what I think is wrong with me.”)
O=What factual evidence do you have in your life that supports how you feel?
A=What is your assessment of the situation, whether that is necessarily the case or not?
P=How do you plan to take care of yourself at this time, and what do you want to tell God in prayer?
Like Luke, I have found the ability to give an orderly account a real plus. Personally, I find it particularly useful in spiritual practices like the Ignatian Examen and simply in keeping my thoughts together in my prayer life. Each of us is a patient presenting ourselves before the Great Physician–sometimes we need deep healing, sometimes we merely want to vent, and sometimes, we’re simply not sure what’s wrong with us and desire for more to be revealed.
What is the SOAP note for your latest spiritual challenge, and what will you take to God in prayer as a result of it?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.