Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Diagnoses Before Prescription

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  (Mark Twain)

David Grayson, an essayist of the early 20th century and author of The Friendly Road, which I mentioned some weeks ago, also wrote a little book called Adventures in Solitude.  In this book he writes of being seriously ill and hospitalized for several months.  Reflecting on that experience he wrote:

“As I thought during those long days, it seemed to me that the hospital cherishes a spirit, or an attitude, that the Church sadly lacks.  I felt in it a respect for the human body and for human life beyond that in the Church, as it stands today, for the spirit of man.

The hospital diagnoses before it prescribes; the Church prescribes before it diagnoses.  The physician stands humble before the human body, studies it, doubts about it, wonders at it; labors to fit his remedies to the exact disease.  Is there in any church an equivalent humility in the presence of the spirit of man?  Is the priest willing to inquire and doubt and wonder?  Does he/she know before trying a cure?  Must the Church cultivate certainty lest knowledge turn and rend it?”

Hospitals may have changed since Grayson’s time, but his comment, “the Church prescribes before it diagnoses” has not changed.  There are those who will immediately come to the defense of the Church and say that the Church holds a divine prescription as well as a divine diagnosis.  Well, that may be true, but the souls of men and women are delicate, fragile, and complex and their spiritual needs (or any other needs they have) are never going to be met by a mass prescription.  (Fact, Truth, Reality, before pronouncements)

Today, it seems to me, it is not only the Church which “prescribes before it diagnoses.”  The news media, the social media, and society as a whole has developed this tendency.  People cannot be lumped together—each person is unique, each is complex—diagnosis is necessary before we prescribe.
The rapids of life are experienced differently by each of us,
even though we are in the same raft.

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