The Great Secret of the Best Physician

Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, 6 September 2015.
By John Abbate.

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Supreme technical skill as a physician is sometimes not enough. The oncologist Dr Ranjana Srivastava, when confronted with patients in extreme anxiety, at perhaps the most difficult time of their life, said that “it was enough to simply say, ‘I will listen.’”

“There is something in the human presence as you listen,” said Dr Macnab. “The sages of the Old Testament told us to wait, and learn of that presence greater than ourselves.”

“At the core of religion is the sense of the sacred and of a hidden reality that transcends daily life,” wrote Raymond Tallis. In his address, Dr Mancab spoke of the hidden reality of inner expectation and hope, of a faith in the unspoken kindness of other people, and of our own resilience; “that capacity that keeps calling us back to face even the terrible realities of the present and the future.”

“The key characteristic of the best physician is in fact dormant in all of us,” said Dr Macnab. It is the ability to awaken a rediscovery of inner strength at times when we are loaded with anxiety or feeling spiritually dead.

We run into situations and people that can leave us stranded, bereft of “any real direction that would restore our morale, or revive a worthwhile sense of meaning in life.” At such times we need courage.

The great theologian of the past century, Paul Tillich, wrote a little book called The Courage to Be. Tillich observed that we are every day surrounded by threats to our being. Every day, the question is there: Who will we be? What will we be? How will we find the courage to be? “We need courage to cope with the hazards,” said Dr Macnab. Life is full of things that would undermine our confidence, our resolve, our very existence.

The problem we all face is how to get in touch with that courage that lies dormant in all of us: the inner strength of the human spirit. If the formalities of faith have a role to play here, it is in allowing us to daily revisit the best symbols of hope, life, and strength; the symbols that can kindle anew the courage to be.

What is the great secret of the best physician? Dr Macnab’s final answer to this question comes directly from the German poet, Karl von Knebel, who wrote, “Hope awakens courage. He who can implant courage in the human soul is the best physician.”

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