The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tony Lobl Headshot

Spiritual Care - As Fortifying as the Roar of an Olympic Crowd!

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Head to Stratford for London 2012 and you'll find one thing that's almost as noisy as the home crowd egging on the Team GB athletes.

It is the impassioned voices of men and women who fervently believe that their Christian calling impels them to stand on a street corner informing passersby that they are sinners.

However, this megaphone approach to religion is the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of people of faith involved in the London Olympics are expressing their love through being on hand to help.

For instance, the Games Pastors are "trained, equipped and supported to assist travellers, sightseers and spectators with practical advice" as well as providing spiritual sustenance to those who want it. And the 193 multi-faith chaplains ministering to the athletes are also on hand to comfort rather than convert.

Richard Gamble, the CEO of Sports Chaplaincy UK, told The Times: "We're certainly not here to push our faith" but to "serve and support".

He describes the pastoral care and spiritual help offered by the chaplains to "competitors of all faiths and none" as "a natural counterweight to all the physical, medical and psychological facilities available" to them.

By why would these modern marvels need a counterweight?

Perhaps it's because spiritual care reaches the parts that physiological and psychological remedies cannot reach, to borrow the famous marketing phrase of one 2012 "Olympic Supplier". "There have been numerous studies conducted over the past 50 years that show a person's health and well-being benefits when his or her spiritual needs are addressed", according to the University of Maryland Medical Centre.

To harness more of these benefits both doctors and nurses are increasingly being encouraged to recognise and respond to patients' spiritual needs. And hospital chaplains "offer a remarkable service for people from all backgrounds" according to a study by Marta Dominguez Diaz, a Research Fellow of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge.

But it's not only the benefits of spirituality that are pushing the envelope. There is also concern over some of the ways in which medical care has been evolving, such as the emphasis on "overdiagnosing millions of what were until very recently considered healthy people", as a British Medical Journal article put it.

It added:

...a growing scrutiny of the seemingly well meaning march of medicalisation suggests we may sometimes be pushing boundaries too wide, and setting treatment thresholds so low, that people with mild problems or modest risks are exposed to the harms and costs of treatment with little or no benefit.

There can also be mental factors involved in the negative repercussions of such testing, according to physician, professor and author H. Gilbert Welch, writing in the LA Times:

Low diagnostic thresholds lead people who feel well to be labeled as unwell. Not surprisingly, some subsequently feel less well.

That points to the influence our minds have on our bodies - an influence researchers are increasingly exploring.

It also suggests the opposite question: could a different perspective - particularly a more spiritual idea of ourselves - have a positive impact on our wellbeing?

Many would point to their lives as an answer to that question, people who've experienced relief, even remission, from sickness by gaining a fresh, spiritually intuitive sense of being divinely loved.

I've often found this perspective has been able to bring about a mental shift in me which has in turn resulted in physical improvement.

Likewise, this more spiritual perception of oneself - and the more selfless life it encourages - is a real driving force behind a willingness to drop negative character traits. For me, it offers a tender but compelling reason to want to do better, which I feel more accurately and effectively echoes the modus operandi of Jesus.

After all, isn't that what we have seen in London 2012?

The home crowd has spurred Team GB to their greatest medal tally for over a century. Not by faultfinding and criticism, but through cheering every success and empathising with every obstacle. On TV, and more so at the Olympic Park itself, you feel the fans adding their mental weight to the efforts of the athletes. And from post-event interviews with the competitors it is clear how much that has been felt.

Of course, neither Olympians nor the rest of us have a stadium full of people egging us on when we struggle with stubborn character traits or face physical infirmities.

But if we listen carefully within, we might just find "a still, small voice" - as the Bible poetically puts it - gently but firmly reassuring us all is well and quietly roaring us on to victory over our challenges.