WEDNESDAY 20 Jan ~ A Vicarious Visit to Lourdes

The most interesting thing that I did today was to read an article called The Healing Response at Lourdes written collectively by Sarah Goldingay, who works in the Department of Drama at the University of Exeter, Paul Dieppe who is a medical specialist, also from Exeter, and Miguel Farias, a psychologist from the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. These three academics went to Lourdes as participant observers cum volunteer helpers and in the article they write about their experiences there.

I have myself been to Lourdes and so was able to imagine some of what they are talking about, though their immersion was greater than mine. It was particularly interesting reading the article so soon after spending a day in a modern German hospital. In my entry for Monday I wrote about how completely humanising the hospital situation (rather than it being like a garage for broken body machines) might be more than both staff and patients could cope with. At Lourdes, however, this is more or less the reality and Sarah, Paul and Miguel all three did experience quite a shock to the system, yet, at the end of it, seem to have felt that they came away with something of immense value.

At Lourdes, the important people are Les Malades, the sick ones and for the volunteers the priority is to care for the sick. On the one hand, this is intimate, one-to-one and personal. On the other hand, it is also en mass. The huge number of sick bodies makes an impact that makes me think of some of the Buddhist meditations designed to bring home the truth of impermanence. Here touch is important. More experienced volunteers guide neophytes and do so often with no common language, but the language of touch and movement is universal and taking a person's hand and moving it so as to ensure the learner hold the sick person correctly brings a closeness not only between worker and patient but also worker and worker.

While actual "miracle cures" may not be that common, the experience of Lourdes brings people together in special ways and this facilitates personal disclosures and letting go of ingrained habits and fears for all involved. The mix of intimate contact and mass ritualisation create a special power. I guess that the original mysteries of Eleusis in Greece may have been not so different.

Interestingly, I came to be reading this article because Elja had drawn my attention to another writing of one of the authors - Miguel Farias - who has penned articles on mindfulness quite similar in perspective to my own. This led me to contact him and he put me onto his other writings. So when you find something interesting, don't be shy, reach out. You never know what special gift the universe has waiting for you. 

If you want to read the original article, I have attached a copy.


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  • Nice you have been in contact with Miguel Farias :-) 

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