As a physician and pastoral theologian, and in my role as a teacher of medical, nursing, chaplaincy, and theology students, I am often asked (especially when speaking about the needs of seriously ill and dying patients), “Is spiritual care always an important part of medical care? If yes, who should assess the need for it?”
Religion is defined as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural; a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”; and spirituality is defined as “the quality or state of being spiritual” (with spiritual meaning “of or relating to sacred matters”).1 In most individuals' estimation, religion tends to be associated with formal practices and rules that connect a person to the sacred. Because spirituality is not usually based on human-made laws of reason or logic, it is often described as the nonlogical or nonrational part of being human that connects to the sacred—God, the Ultimate, or Universal Principle (depending on the belief system). For many persons, however, religion and spirituality are one and the same, as one's spiritual practices frequently flow from the religion espoused by the person. However, in experiences filled with the presence of the holy (numinous), the spiritual transcends ordinary human experiences.