Friday, October 17, 2014

Alternative Medicine...Is It Right for a Woman of Faith?

Many women today suffer from chronic illness. It may be autoimmune related diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus or it may be digestive issues like Colitis or Crohn’s. 

And those are only the very tip of the iceberg. 

I don’t think there are verifiable statistics for this phenomenon because it doesn’t appear that there is a real awareness of the seriousness of this trend—but it is there.

I see it.

I hear it, too.

Since I’ve spent the better part of the past three decades (and probably even more time than that but I just didn’t put the pieces together) with what can best be described as “chronic illness” that evades concrete diagnosis, I may just be more sensitive to seeing and hearing the telltale signs of this trend among our female population.

But I’m no doctor. I have no qualifications to address this subject except my own personal experience—and those I continue to see and hear about which keep bringing the subject back to my awareness. Women who have suffered so long that they now are in the depths of depression as well.

What I’ve found is that a Catholic woman with undiagnosed health issues—or diagnosed health issues that are not getting “cured”—faces an issue when considering alternative medicine. She is often torn between her desire to get well and trying to find what avenue is acceptable to her faith.

A decision to consider alternative medicine as a piece of her health care is a personal one; it can only be answered by the woman herself—the seeker, the believer. Everyone seems rather comfortable with what I now call “traditional” medicine. Traditional medicine includes a doctor who has a license to practice medicine by a recognized university and through proper exams, tests, and certifications. All their accomplishments are worthy of praise and ought to be valued; but what I’ve found is that they are only a piece of a medical puzzle when a person suffers from things not in the “normal” range of traditional medicine—and even then, it can still be a hit-or-miss journey towards health.

Traditional medicine has been part of my journey, too, in the past few decades; unfortunately it has been to no avail. I’ve been told I had Lupus, RA, and other diseases along the way. None have been firm, conclusive, or have provided physical relief. It has been a roller-coaster ride, to say the least.

At some point I found myself interested in seeing a Naturopathic doctor. I liked her a lot and saw her for a few years. And while I can’t say that seeing her actually provided any more help than my time seeing traditional doctors, I did form a bond with her because I felt that I was working with her in seeking understanding and “cures.” Whereas my traditional doctor was offended when I inquired about the safety of HRT (at a time when it was a given that a woman would take it—which is no longer is!), my naturopathic doctor explored with me as I read and researched and sought health.

And once I entered into the realm of “alternative medicine,” I wanted to keep a foot in that world but I also wanted whatever I was doing to be reconciled with my faith. Fears of stumbling into “new-age” practices kept me hyper-aware of each step.

That’s both good and bad.

What I’ve learned is that lots of good things are thrown out under the fear of new-age. The new-age banner has been applied to things which may well be God-centered. What I’ve concluded is that the only person who can truly decide if seeking alternative medicine is right is the seeker herself.

I believe it is important to recognize that what is more accepted today—things like kinesiology and meditation to reduce stress—were once considered outside-of-the-box thinking in the health care industry. This means that the label “Alternative Medicine” is either greatly expanding—or shrinking—depending on how you look at it. Either way, it is good for the seeker of health: alternative medicine is expanding and pushing into the realm of “traditional”—or traditional is expanding to pick up what was once alternative. It ultimately means more options that are seen as viable enter the arena and the chances of those who are stumbling through their years of chronic illness will more likely find some combination of things that will lead to health.

I accidently came across Hildegard of Bingen’s writings last year and it opened up a whole new world to me. While “gem therapy” is thrown out as new-age and has frightening and damnation consequences written all over it—you can only imagine my surprise when I read about Hildegard of Bingen’s crystal therapy and her understanding of “energy” systems in the body! We are talking about a doctor of the church explaining how holding a gemstone in your mouth can cure something or that a certain type of cookie can help alleviate spiritual and physical symptoms. I say I “accidently” came across her work but of course there are no accidents in a faith walk. Although I am not advocating gem-therapy in the new-age sense or any alternative treatments that conflict with or possibly undermine traditional medicine, I am confident in saying that there is a bigger world of health care than we are currently offered through strict traditional medicine and a woman of faith—yoked to Christ through constant prayer and adoration—shouldn’t be afraid to ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit to find answers.

Someone needs to say this and I’m willing to be that someone.

Many Catholic women today—myself included—have tried to reconcile their suffering and seeking health with their faith but have come up short. It’s exhausting and frustrating. It is depressing. Confusing and mixed messages (take up your cross, “no” is an answer to prayer, offer it up, and so on) send us back and forth between suffering and hope. In the end, a woman of faith should be confident that she can be guided by the Holy Spirit towards those things that will provide her with the health she seeks and which may include alternative things like biomagnetic pair therapy and attending healing masses while also seeing a traditional M.D.

We don’t replace “traditional” with “alternative” but we can certainly live in confidence that God who loves us and desires we live in health and peace will help us on our journey.

My prayer for you—whoever is reading this message—is that the God you serve, the God who loves you and sent his only begotten son to heal you through his stripes, the God who hears your prayers for health and healing, answers you today.




(Image: ID 27770634 © Alexmillos |

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