written by Kate Hennessy-Keimig
“The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered.” -Dr. Will Mayo
As a longtime Minnesota resident, I have always been aware of the Mayo Clinic, founded by Dr. William Mayo and his sons William and Charles. From a humble beginning in the small town of Rochester, MN, “the Mayo” has become a symbol of hope and healing for people worldwide. As a psychologist, I also knew of the Menninger’s groundbreaking work in making the treatment of individuals with mental illness more humane and compassionate. What I was not aware of was how much the development of these institutions was rooted in the deep faith of their founders.
Both the Mayos’ and Mennigers’ work was radical for its time in their emphasis on the treatment and health of the whole person, spiritually and emotionally, as well as physically, and in their compassionate, wholistic, person-centered care of those who were suffering. For both of these families, their call to healing was rooted in and informed by an ethic that stemmed from their faith. Both the Mayos and the Mennigers were willing to step outside the accepted ways of doing things and take risks in their approaches to healing. Both placed value on truly seeing and hearing the whole person in front of them, not just the illness or the “presenting problem.” Often patients who had been treated at the Mayo would tell me that it was the first time in an often complicated and long course of treatment that they felt like they were more than just a diagnosis, and that the doctors who treated them saw them as a whole person who needed not just curative interventions, but help with healing and restoration to the best quality of life they could have.
In this morning’s reading, Jesus shows great compassion to the suffering woman, healing her from her twelve years of hemorrhages, and to the grieving parents who had lost their young daughter. In both stories, he offers not only physical healing, but calls the sufferers back into the community and meets their very human needs, even reminding the overjoyed parents that they needed to feed this daughter who had been restored to them.
These medical pioneers responded to a need and a call to combine their gifts for healing with their passion to heal the suffering and restore them to life, body and spirit. While not all of us are called to build great clinics, we are all charged with bringing compassion and healing to those we encounter who are suffering and in need of healing and restoration. We are called to notice the needs of those around us and to respond to them compassionately, doing whatever we can to help the suffering find their way back to wholeness, health and community. We are also called to go beyond simply treating the symptoms or solving the presenting problem. Like these saints, we are called to see that the “problem” before us is a person, the person has a context, but as followers of Jesus, we are called to address not only the immediate need but the underlying causes in the bigger picture as well.
Yes, by all means feed the hungry, but also work to resolve the problems of food deserts and food instability, poverty and homelessness. Heal the sick and injured, but address the ways that that stress, violence, unsanitary living conditions, poor nutrition, unaffordable health care and other larger issues like racism participate in illness, woundedness and dis-ease in body, mind and spirit. Provide for the basic needs of your neighbors, feed and clothe and house with dignity those in need of those things, but look at the bigger picture in the ways that cultures and systems, powers and principalities perpetuate their suffering and need. Clean up the parks and rivers, but also raise your voice in protest at the many ways that we abuse each other and the environment by our lack of good stewardship of our planet.
And so, we pray: Divine Physician, we bless your Name for the work and witness of the Mayos and the Menningers, and the revolutionary developments that they brought to the practice of medicine. As Jesus went about healing the sick as a sign of the reign of God come near, bless and guide all those inspired to the work of healing by your Holy Spirit, that they may follow his example for the sake of your kingdom and the health of your people; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The Rev. Kate Hennessy-Keimig is bi-vocational priest serving as Priest Associate at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Omaha, NE and as an integrative psychologist.