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I am in the midst of my term as president of the American Holistic Nurses' Association, despite being reluctant to accept this role. In addition to feeling that I didn't need another volunteer responsibility, especially one of this magnitude, I was concerned about being a Christian in a group that had become, rightly or wrongly, associated with New Age philosophies. Who needed that burden?

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Yet, the call was strong and clear. I agreed to run for the presidency, and I won. The Lord has blessed me as I serve, and he has been faithful in providing strength, wisdom and boldness to honor him as I walk this path. Since I've assumed this position, a number of my Christian colleagues have questioned my involvement in the holistic nursing arena, as it seems incompatible with Christian faith. Many Christian nurses have told me that they want nothing to do with the AHNA or the term holistic nursing. They back away, leaving the development of holistic nursing in the hands of people who do not know or understand Jesus Christ. If this pattern continues, I am concerned for the future course of holistic nursing.


Simply put, holistic nursing is about integrated, whole-person care-mind, body and spirit-with the recognition that when combined, the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, when the mind, body and spirit are in harmony, a powerful synergy causes 1+1+1 to equal 5, 10 or more.


Although the term holistic or wholistic care had been mentioned in nursing circles for some time, holistic nursing became a distinct entity in 1980 with the formation of the American Holistic Nurses' Association (AHNA). A commendable intent drove the development of the AHNA-to return whole-person care and the healing arts to mainstream nursing.


At that time, the nursing profession mirrored the attitudes and values of medicine, viewing science as the answer to illness. Care focused on procedures to diagnose, treat and cure. Non-technological interventions, such as holding a hand, massaging a back and praying took a back seat to the more modern, scientific approaches. Suffering had no purpose; comforting seemed passe.


Understandably, a growing number of nurses who were disillusioned with high-tech care were drawn to a movement that fed their healer instinct. Many of these nurses were creative, compassionate beings marching to the beat of non-conventional drummers. They explored topics and practices seldom discussed in typical nursing education programs, such as energy healing, meditation, shamanism, chakras, auras and the interrelationship of mind, body and spirit. They sought a better path.


Recent years have brought holistic nursing care into great visibility, particularly as consumers are increasingly aware of the relationship of mind, body and spirit to health and healing. In addition, Americans are using complementary and alternative therapies in record numbers. Many of these therapies promote holistic approaches that address the spiritual dimensions of care. Nursing schools are developing holistic nursing programs. Nurses are becoming certified in holistic nursing and the body of holistic nursing literature is expanding.


The spiritual dimensions of health are recognized as significant in holistic care, but, unfortunately, Jesus Christ tends to have a minor presence when spirituality is considered. Buddhism, Hinduism, shamanism and Native American beliefs tend to be more popular than Christianity in holistic circles.


My experience has revealed that when one encounters individuals in these circles who identify themselves as Christians, they are people who tend to disregard Jesus' words in John 14:6, where he states that he is the way, truth and life, preferring instead the belief that there are many paths to a loving God and that the Bible can be selectively applied to life. Relationship and obedience to Jesus Christ as a component of spiritual well-being are noticeably absent from holistic literature.


I believe that many nurses interested in holistic care, healing and spirituality have not made a conscious, studied choice to reject Christianity. Nor are they callous, uncaring people opposed to faith. Instead, they may have chosen alternate paths because of the absence of a Christian presence in their lives and an abundance of exposure to literature and spokespersons, often quite charismatic, who represent views based on non-Christian paths.


Further, some of these nurses have had unfortunate experiences with religion. They associate Christianity with judgmental attitudes, abused submission and mindless obedience. Many holistic nurses are spiritually hungry people seeking a meaningful life. Unfortunately, the smorgasbord of philosophies they find available to them affords them little taste in the richness of true Christianity.


We are in the midst of an explosion of interest in the spiritual aspects of healing, holistic health and the use of complementary and alternative healing modalities. Consumers are being drawn to and significantly influenced by holistic practitioners. What spiritual light will these practitioners be guided by and offer to those whom they serve? Will Christ be the source of the spirit in holistic nursing care?


Christian nurses should not retreat from mainstream holistic nursing circles but rather view them as ministry opportunities. Just as we travel to foreign lands, prisons and inner-city streets to bring the Lord to unbelievers, we need to engage with colleagues so that their lives-and ultimately the lives they touch-can be changed by hearing the good new of Christ's love. The messages and practices encountered in holistic nursing circles may not be comfortable for Christians, yet, they will not be changed unless Christians enter these circles and allow the Lord to work through them there.


Let us be challenged to follow the example of Paul as we assure that Jesus Christ has a vital presence in the spiritual dimension of holistic care. Paul wrote, "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings" (1 Cor 9:22-23).


What role do you think Christian nurses should play in holistic nursing? Express your ideas, encouragement and concerns on the JCN website: Look for "Christians in Holistic Nursing."