One Word. A Therapeutic Miracle. A Universal Need.

Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, January 18, 2015
by John Abbate

Edvard Munch, Apple Tree in the Garden, ca. 1932-42

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
—Joyce Kilmer

 “Why are there no hymns about trees?” asked Dr Macnab. A jacaranda tree transforms, seemingly overnight, from a tangle of lifeless grey branches to a blooming spectacle of colour. A single, well placed flower can lift the mood in a hospital room as it “speaks the miracle of hope and life”. A single word can also have miraculous effects.

When Dr Macnab speaks of the importance of “one word”, he speaks of the way a single word can come into focus, how one word can function with a power that a multitude of words barrelling forth often lacks.

“What is the word that I’m looking for—a word that will be a therapeutic miracle, a healing word—life, hope, speaking to a universal need?”

In this address, Dr Macnab centres our attention on several of these potentially miraculous “one words”: yes, connection, release and focus.

The first “one word” is yes—affirmation. Yes, you are accepted. Yes, you are here. Yes, this is life. When we feel life’s uncertain balance between yes and no, it is time to end the vacillation, to finally affirm “yes” above all.

The element of connection, of being dynamically related to the world, is critical for human life. There is a miracle in being connected to a flow of positive energy, whether that energy comes from a person’s faith, from another person, or from the greater human context.

“I look for a word that strikes true to our universal need,” said Dr Macnab. This is a word that applies to everyone: release. There is a universal need to be released from our bad conscience; to get over our distressing experiences; to get free of our negative baggage: the guilt, the anxiety, and the heaviness of the past.

“We all find there are times when we want to undo the things that have been done, to un-remember what we vividly, painfully remember, to un-grieve the grief that weighs heavily on the heart…Our religion told us that we needed forgiveness, a saviour, something or someone to take us forward, to save us from all the destructiveness…But we found that some things are unforgivable, that God did not set us free, that religion did not usher us into a new and positive life but frequently took us into a very negative, destructive life.”

To be released is to be able to focus. Our focus can become a huge contributor to our health. Sometimes what is needed is to turn away from our painful remembrances and all the damage done in the past, to fence off those claims on our attention, and to focus in the present on the processes of release.

Speaking about his long-running program on successful ageing (S.A.G.E.), and with his typical fondness for alliteration, Dr Macnab advocates the goal of affirming (yes) the later years of life as the “decades of depth and destiny.” The inevitable, normal “deterioration and decline” that accompanies these later years needn’t be their defining characteristic.

Affirmation (yes), connection, release, focus—words that strike true to our universal need.

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