Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Search of the Deeper Healing

"The healing intention has taken many forms throughout history. It has been voiced in the prayers and invocations of countless generations of priests and shamans. It has been carried by the men and women who sought out the substances present in nature and those produced by human ingenuity that help to ease the pain of sickness and hasten the return of health. It continues to find expression in the skill and precision of those dedicated surgeons who daily exercise their art."
                                                                                                   Introduction: Holism and Complementary Medicine. Origins and Principles

I have in recent days had cause to accompany a family member on a visit to a specialist clinic at Saint Vincent's Hospital, one of Melbourne's larger public hospitals. This experience has brought me into deep and intimate contact with the invisible pain that fills both the world and the lives of so many throughout the world.

Even before arriving at the hospital, the journey itself became a revelation. I had spent the previous night in one of the outer-flung suburbs of Melbourne and travelled into the city along the Eastern Freeway, a heavily trafficked tollway very different to the narrow winding roads around the Victorian coastal community where my wife and I live.

Though it had been some years since I had travelled on that particular freeway, I found myself thinking similar thoughts to those that had often arisen on previous trips. With 10 lanes of cars stretched endlessly before and behind, I imagined this scene repeated in every major city in a world that carries over one billion motor vehicles, with hundreds of millions of cars undertaking the same daily pilgrimage from home to workplace and back. Seeing smoke pouring from the exhaust of one of the numerous heavy trucks that muscled its way along the freeway, I reflected further on the inexorable thickening of an already-burdened atmosphere whose carbon dioxide levels have steadily risen over the past three years from 397 parts per million in July 2013 to over 401 parts per million in July 2015. So sad. So silly. So much for the increasingly desperate calls of James Hansen and Bill McKibben over the past 7 years.

While such notions were gently coursing through my mind, the eTag sitting on the windscreen gave an audible beep - the first in over a year - as I drove under a toll point situated above the freeway. I imagined a symphony of such beeps sounding in the cabins of every vehicle on that tollway and every other tollway operating in the world, and of the automatic siphoning of a dollar or two from bank accounts everywhere with each beep. It brought to mind the old saying, money makes the world go round - yet another of the many lies that help prop up dying empires.

It also vividly reminded me of the vast and invisible networks of humanly-made and modulated electromagnetic fields that track our motions, broadcast our voices, texts and images, guide our airliners and smart bombs, direct silent-gliding nuclear submarines with their calculated arsenals of ballistic missiles, and steer our spacecraft through the cold and empty reaches of interplanetary space.

The road then began to descend as the lines of cars on the freeway snaked towards the entrance of the Melba tunnel, a massive one and a half kilometre long marvel of engineering built in 2008. And I wondered: Is this what we came here for? To move at high speed along bitumen corridors? To pride ourselves on marvellously wrought feats of engineering? To spend our days travelling to and from the maze of towering citadels that canyon the business districts of cities throughout the world?

St. Vincent's Hospital Melbourne
Soon enough, we arrived at the end of a long queue of cars that slowly inched its way from the end of the freeway into the tangle of streets and humanity at the edge of Melbourne city. After finding a parking spot, with its own hungry meter devouring coins in exchange for an allotted time of respite from the army of eagle-eyed parking officers looking to further empty the pockets of those who didn't return to their cars on time, we made our way to the Daly Wing, one of the older sections of St. Vincent's Hospital, originally conceived through the vision of 5 nuns, Sisters of Charity who raised enough money over a four year period to purchase a large terrace house on Victoria Parade and set up a cottage hospital of 30 beds in 1893. It is now a sprawling multi-storey teaching complex of 400 beds that occupies several street blocks near the inner city.

As we passed through the hospital entrance, I noticed the presence of a cross carrying an image of the crucified Christ on the wall. I felt reassured by this powerful reminder of a love and an innocence that had endured unspeakable pain. It added a certain grace and depth to a morning that had otherwise been punctuated by the ubiquitous triumphalist monuments of a thoroughly secularised technological civilisation.

Medieval Hospital Ward
It also reminded me of the fact that a distinct lineage can be traced between the healing ministry of Jesus when he walked the streets and deserts of Palestine 2,000 years ago and the formation of the first hospitals in Europe by monastic groups and Christian communities. When the Emperor Julian took the throne and sought to re-paganise the Roman empire in 360 AD, he directed that State-funded hospitals or xenodochia be established in every city in the empire in order to counter the influence of the numerous healing ministries and houses of healing set up by early Christians. A decade later, Ephraim, Bishop of Syria set up a facility with 300 beds for those afflicted by the plague that hit Edessa in 372 AD. Most recently, the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta has shown how fully the work of healing - even when all hope of physical survival is lost - is integral to the Christian mission.

On arrival at the reception desk, we were surprised to see so many people in the waiting area. Virtually all of the 70 or 80 seats were occupied while many other people were standing along the walls and in the corridor. A nurse with a clipboard was working her way through the room occasionally announcing in a loud voice that it was an unusually busy morning and that there could be some very long waits. Many were visibly disappointed and frustrated. It seemed that this was not the first time they had experienced such delays. One woman approached the nurse directly and was told that her appointment would probably be three to three and a half hours later than the scheduled time. The woman said she had another appointment in the afternoon that could not be put off and asked if she could book another time. The nurse informed her that the next available appointment would be in mid-October - some 8 weeks away.

I realised then how thin was the veneer of efficiency and sufficiency of the public hospital system in Melbourne - and probably most cities in the developed world. And this at a time of relative steadiness and stability. So if one is unwell or suffering from a disease, how is life to be lived out in the Sudan or the Congo? Or in Gaza, or Syria or other places afflicted by war and oppression? The certainties within which we live are all wafer thin. Yet we build our dreams and empires upon them.

Inside an MRI machine
It had been 7 years since I had last accompanied our younger daughter to St. Vincent's hospital. My remembrance of that time relates more to the technological hardware that is now integral to the biomedical project than the experience of individuals awaiting specialist medical care in the context of a public hospital. That occasion was also my first contact with nuclear medicine and the first time I had witnessed the sophisticated technical mastery embodied in a bone-scan machine. I will also never forget the late-night visit to the basement where the hospital's two MRI scanners costing between one and three million dollars apiece were operating constantly. Reaching the MRI suite through the basement corridors was a surrealistic wander through a labyrinthine network lined with large variously-coloured cables and pipes that vibrated to the sound of a constant low hum.

I began to understand how deeply the technological project had permeated virtually every aspect of biomedicine, the practice of which is now fully locked into technological civilisation beginning from the manufacture of drugs, to the analysis of blood samples, to the many visualisation technologies from fibre optiscopes to PET scanners, and the altogether extraordinary armamentaria routinely used in surgical procedures. Such a long, long way from the original vision of five prayerful women of action, the five Sisters of Charity who first opened the doors of Saint Vincent's Hospital in 1893.

Of Finer Fields and Gentler Ways

Yet there are some things that will never change.

As has been suggestively voiced so many times before, we do not live by bread alone. In the same way that the body has its sources of nourishment, so too do the soul and the spirit. This understanding would have been central to the mission of both the nuns and the small group of honorary physicians and surgeons who helped to staff St. Vincent's, the first Catholic hospital to be established in Melbourne. Apart from providing for the medical needs of patients, the hospital was also a place of prayer, a place where the transience of human life was consciously acknowledged, a place where the interpenetration of birth, life and death was experienced, a place where healing was sought not only from the administration of drugs and surgical procedures but from the power that invests the invisible world in which we live and move and have our being. We sit comfortably with the notion that the world is charged with invisible energies that connect us through our mobile phones and direct us through GPS devices. Yet there are many who would demur at the notion that intelligent, intentional energy in the form of spirit plays any part in the story of being human, that we participate in an entire nexus of influence of which the material world with all its man-made fields and man-made powers are only a small part.

Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza
The healings performed by Jesus during the time that he walked the earth 2,000 years ago are not historical fantasies designed to placate the hopes of the credulous and the gullible. Such healing power has ever been one of the gifts of the Spirit described by Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. This has manifested historically and continues to manifest daily in such places of pilgrimage as Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, and Medjugorje in Bosnia. There is no shortage of documentation of such phenomena for those who would care to search it out. Yet, to paraphrase Bernadette Soubirous, the seer of Lourdes whose waters have over the past one and a half centuries brought healing to tens of thousands of individuals, there are some for whom no proof is sufficient while there are others for whom no proof is necessary.

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina not only brought about numerous remarkable healings through his own charism, but in the immediate post-World War II period personally oversaw the funding and construction of a large modern hospital, La Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza that has recently been described as "one of the best equipped hospitals in all of Europe." Despite the fact that he was intimately familiar with the reality of divinely-mediated healing, he never ceased to encourage those who would be healers to not only make use of all the material fruits of human ingenuity made available through technology and medicine, but to ceaselessly draw their inspiration from divine reality. In his Prayer for Healers, Padre Pio says:
Illuminate our intelligence in the pursuit of an understanding of the pain and difficulties caused by the numerous afflictions that can assail our bodies until, by skilfully availing ourselves of the findings of science, the causes of sickness no longer remain hidden to us. By your grace, may we be neither deceived nor mistaken regarding the nature of our patients' symptoms, but with sure judgement, select the best remedies or treatments that have been made available through your Divine Providence.
But there are times when powers other than those carried in the best remedies and treatments manifest in human reality.

Healings at Medjugorje

The video clip below offers an extraordinary personal witness of two dramatic healings that have occurred at Medjugorje in Bosnia. The testimony offered by Polish priest Fr. Peter Glas challenges to the core the world-view that systematically denies the existence of divine power or of a miraculous dimension capable of interpenetrating human reality. It also offers considerable insight into the charism that can be made manifest when priests truly become priests. A remarkable tale from which much can be drawn is told by Fr. Peter Glas in the first 25 minutes of the video embedded below.

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., N.D., M.H.Sc.
Inverloch, August 2015


1. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Healer for a Broken Time

This post offers a review of the life and work of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, a Capuchin priest who carried the wounds of the crucified Christ. 

It includes an English translation of his Prayer for Healers, and carries an embedded documentary that examines his life and influence.

2. In the Presence of the Transcendent. Giuseppe Caccioppoli and Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

The meaning of the life of Padre Pio cannot be fully encompassed by knowing his story or the range of his spiritual gifts. It is only in the context of his day-to-day influence on the lives of those who knew him and loved him that one can begin to form a coherent understanding of the man and of his mission. The reminiscences and stories of those who were close to him provide far more light than any formal examination of the many available histories and commentaries that attempt to describe his life and detail his attributes. One such story is told by child psychiatrist and former priest Giuseppe Caccioppoli, a spiritual son of Padre Pio.

This post also carries a downloadable Italian-language audio file in which Giuseppe Caccioppoli discusses his experiences with Padre Pio.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Seeds of Hope for a Hopeless Wasteland

On July 8th 2014, Israel launched its "Operation Protective Edge" upon Gaza. Such assaults have become a regular part of the Israeli calendar in recent years. During the seven weeks of bombardment, 2,132 inhabitants of Gaza - 500 of whom were children - were killed. A further 11,100 were injured. Following the pattern of all such recent assaults, most of the casualties were civilian non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and 5 civilians were killed, while 69 civilians were injured by rocket fire.

During the 7 weeks of bombardment, over 500,000 Palestinians - about a third of the entire population of Gaza - were driven from their homes, with most needing emergency food assistance. Over 270,000 civilians took refuge in the 90 United Nations schools in Gaza. Meanwhile, over 12,000 housing units were completely destroyed and a further 150,000 homes were damaged by bombs, mortar fire, and the actions of ground troops.

Seven months later, not a single home destroyed by the Israeli military in 2014 has been rebuilt.

Despite the apparent abandonment and near-universal silence regarding the situation in both Gaza and the West Bank, there are some voices who continue to call for justice and humanity to be exercised in the moral wasteland that Israel/Palestine has become.

For those with the Time, the Patience and the Will

A few days ago, the National Press Club in Washington posted videos of a conference examining the role of the Israel Lobby within the US in maintaining and supporting the deeply flawed policies that have riven the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis for many decades now. One of the panels featured Israeli author and activist Miko Peled, outspoken Israeli journalist Gideon Levi, and Palestinian/American lawyer Huwaida Arraf.

Miko Peled is of aristocratic Zionist lineage. His grandfather, Avraham Katsnelson was a prominent Zionist political figure and a signatory to the Israeli Declaration of Independence that established the State of Israel in 1948. His father, Mattityahu Peled was a member of the Israeli High Command and served as Major General during the 6-Day War of 1967. Immediately after the war, he urged that Israeli forces withdraw from all occupied territories. Constantly frustrated in his efforts, he resigned from the Israeli Defense Force within two years and devoted much of his energy thereafter to the cause of peace in Israel/Palestine. Mattityahu Peled was also a serious scholar who founded the Arabic Language and Literature Department at Tel Aviv University. During his latter years, Peled actively campaigned against Israeli militarism and the systematic violation of human rights by Israel in the occupied territories.

Gideon Levy needs little introduction. He has long been known and honoured as a clear-headed, courageous and deeply knowledgeable journalist for Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily newspaper. A week after the bombing of Gaza commenced in 2014 (by which time 200 people in Gaza had been killed and a further 1,000 injured), Levy wrote an article which called upon Israeli pilots to "refuse to take part in this death squadron." For this, he received many death threats. He was given the protection of bodyguards by his publisher. Gideon Levy carries a rare wisdom honed by deep familiarity with the violence that has seared the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis for decades.

Palestinian/American lawyer Huwaida Arraf was among a delegation from the U.S. National Lawyers Guild who visited Gaza in February 2009 to document the illegal excesses of the Israeli Defense Force during their Operation Cast Lead. She was also witness to the murder of 9 passengers on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara by Israeli forces in May 2010 and was the chair of the Free Gaza Movement which organised the Gaza Freedom Flotillas.

This powerful recent discussion makes clear - yet again - the degree of collusion that has taken place between the State of Israel and most western governments in their disregard for the well-being and for the freedoms of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine.

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., M.H.Sc.
April 2015

Further Sources

1. In February 2014, Miko Peled gave a powerful and broad-ranging presentation at the Institute of Public Relations in Prague. He lays to rest the fairy-tale narrative of the creation of the State of Israel that western powers cleave to in their continued support for Israeli policies. As a result of such policies, 4.3 million Palestinian continue to live in refugee camps with little food, little water, little sewerage and poor nutrition seven decades - three generations - after they were driven from their traditional lands. Video of his talk can be accessed here.

2. On the 12th April 2015, the Association of International Development Agencies issued a new paper: "Charting a New Course. Overcoming the stalemate in Gaza." This distressing report highlights the degree of prevarication that has impeded all attempts to bring even the semblance of a liveable life to the men, women and children of Gaza after the devastation caused by the 7-week long Israeli assault during July and August 2014. A pdf copy of the report is available here.

3. "Slouching Towards Gaza" is an Integral Reflections production originally posted in December 2013. It offers audio collage of poetry, music, and contemporary commentary that addresses many lesser-known aspects of the history of Israel/Palestine. It includes the voices of Tanya Reinhart, Ilan Pappe, Richard Falk, Robert Fisk, Chris Hedges and Edward Said among others.

 Slouching Towards Gaza can be streamed using the media player above, or downloaded as a CD quality mp3 file here.

Northern Gaza, April 2015

With thanks to Binu Mathew of Countercurrents for making available Ludwig Watzal's article "The United States of Israel" which has prompted this further explication.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Finding Other Ways

At a certain point, words become pointless. After generating the 38 treatises of his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas lay down his quill in a supremely eloquent statement of the limitations of written text. Not a few who have sought to use the written word as a way of transformation and illumination have since concurred with the angelic doctor's conclusions.

The intervening centuries since Aquinas have brought us to greater apparent freedoms where, through the ambivalent graces of technological civilisation, the oral, the aural and the visual have become more available to us as ways of knowing the nature of this world and its perturbations.

Yet all of the written words, all of the spoken words and all of the images in the world have done little to alter our perverse determination to pursue the ways of perdition disguised as gain, to stridently claim our freedom to do what we want whenever we want to, to ruinously wage war without end without thought of the destruction of humans, of households and of the institutions and infrastructures of civil society, to enslave the hungry and the desperate in distant places in order to fill further the already surfeited shelves of our retail spaces, and to voraciously acquire wealth through whatever means can be gotten away with.

So how are we to awaken from the privileged slumber that disregards the torment and lost hopes of those who are ensnared in the chaos wrought by hubristic leaders and their bloated industrial and military establishments?

Yet there may be some goodwill. Look carefully between the lines served up in the soporific tabloids that litter the world and you may find an occasional impassioned call for justice, an occasional reflection on the crookedness of the times. Yet the wheel relentless turns, often crushing those who happen to find themselves in its path. We just don't seem to get it, while both elected and autocratic rulers get away with it all the time.

There are some who would shrug and call this the inevitable fruit of fallen human nature. But the blood-soaked earth and generations of grieving mothers bear witness to the folly of war. Meanwhile, we continue to prepare for the waging of war without end. It's good for business they say. Thus the whole inglorious human history.

Small wonder, then, that we remain benumbed even in the midst of the escalating predicament within which we collectively find ourselves, where the earth's finely wrought systems that balance the concentration of gases within the atmosphere, that maintain the fertility of forests, bushlands and prairies, and that regulate the composition and flow of oceanic waters are now irretrievable damaged by the ferocity and violence of technological civilisation.

The Thickening Air

I still remember clearly the reflections of a young family member on her return from Japan a few years ago. She spoke of the vividness and the ubiquity of neon light that nightly sears and punctuates the sky scape of Japanese cities. Her recollection brought to mind my own earlier experiences of night-time descents into the airports of Melbourne and Sydney. Astronauts circling the earth in their amazing machines have similarly identified the cities of the earth as brightly glowing zones in an otherwise starkly darkened night scape.

How are we to sensitively interact with our circumstances in ways that are appropriate to our present situation? How are we to deal with the contradictions inherent in meticulously replacing all our household light bulbs with new low-energy forms while the empty but well-illuminated buildings throughout the cities of the world everywhere brighten the night sky? Are we mindful of the irony of installing solar panels on our roofs knowing that over 4 thousand million tons of coal are burned up in China every year - equivalent to three tons of coal for every Chinese man, woman and child - and that over seven hundred coal-fired power plants were built in China in the seven years between 2005-2011?

Perhaps we may get it on a personal level, but we still don't seem to get it collectively. Some of us can still recall David Suzuki's cautions delivered on his visits to Australia during the 1980s. Many of us have seen Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth produced in 2006. We even dared to hope that sanity might prevail when Ross Garnaut put out his courageous call in 2008. Then came the serial collapse of the United Nations Climate Talks beginning with Copenhagen in 2009 and ending most recently in the non-event at Lima in December 2014.

Garnaut's visionary suggestions have been effectively castrated. Never mind that Australia is the second largest exporter of coal on the planet, producing 400 million tons of coal each year - over 17 tons of coal per year for every man, woman and child in this country. Under the so-called leadership of Tony Abbott and the Australian Liberal Party, lukewarm politicians have seen fit to completely abandon the carbon tax that the Labour Party had been trying to implement since 2008. Such knowledgeable and committed commentators as James Hansen and Bill McKibben are of the view that taxing carbon is the only way to effectively rein in inexorably escalating global emissions. Meanwhile, both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have just reported that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded.

There may be other factors at work in all of this. Seen in organic terms, we live in a senescent civilisation that has expropriated and squandered its collective reserves, needlessly vitiating its own powers in the process. The great forests of the earth have been decimated. The once-vast shoals of fish in our oceans have similarly been ruined. Mighty mountains of metal have levelled and smelted on every continent. But unlike the coming of age in nature, our civilisation appears not to be losing its appetite, but becomes increasingly voracious.

And of Tomorrow?

While President Obama plans for the next wave of space excursions that will initially aim for a manned landing on a large asteroid before a more ambitious landing on Mars, and while both Chinese and Russian scientists make plans to harvest tritium from the moon's surface to fuel the next generation of fusion reactors, we have yet to comprehend the enormity of the damage already done to the earth and the need for determined collective action if we are to retain any hope for a liveable future for our children and their generations.

It's not that we don't have the knowledge or the means of changing our present course. We just haven't grasped that the earth has her limits.

Over the past century, we have experienced two of the most destructive wars in human history. More than seventy million people, including forty seven million non-combatants, were killed in World War II alone. These are mind-numbing numbers, impossible to comprehend. The great cities of Warsaw, Dresden, Hamburg, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were all destroyed, and vast charnel grounds were created in the war fields of Europe, Russia and North Africa. Yet we somehow recovered. We rebuilt, restored, repopulated and relentlessly raced towards the next calamitous round that now confronts us.

The Cold War may have ended, but the US and Russia continue to harbour over 15,000 nuclear warheads between them. And a further 1,000 nuclear weapons are held by the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel. Does the thought of overkill come anywhere into the lexicon, let alone the imagination, of politicians and military planners?

Are our written words to be as dust, scattered in a gathering wind? Are our calls for peace ever to be understood by those who move lines on maps? Will sanity ever carry the day in the face of growing environmental and ecological calamities? Will we ever find the will to find new ways of being on the earth?

Vincent Di Stefano D.O., M.H.Sc.
January 2015