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Posted December 5, 2012
Sister Karen J. Zielinski, O.S.F., was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1975, when she was in her early twenties. Over the years, she has taught, served as her community’s director of communications, and spoken and written widely about chronic disease and the spirituality of disability and of health. She is currently director of Canticle Studio, a source of creative products focused on spirituality and health.
In “Hope and Help for Living with Illness,” Sr. Karen offers spiritual practices for coping with health challenges through the gift of faith, “weaving spirituality through the fabric of our health.” She brings together Scripture, personal reflections, and practical issues such as navigating complicated insurance issues. Three chapters relate directly to the role of caregiver: when one we love becomes ill, caring for caregivers, and living with mental illness. The chapter on mental illness centers on the story of Eve and her husband, who learned about bipolar disorder as it affected Jenny, the daughter they had adopted. The story ends with Jenny’s suicide, leaving behind a three-year-old son. Eve and her husband adopted Jimmy, who was diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Sr. Karen includes information on mental illness, which affects 16 to 20 percent of the population. That discussion covers “mental illness as physical illness,” stereotypes, general practices for giving support and compassion, and mental health facilities. The closing prayer for this chapter asks God for help in cooperating with treatment goals, stamina to abide by a wellness program, and ability to “face the darkness which can burst out in light.”
The majority of chapters address those with illness more directly, covering the healing effect of helping others, comfort of prayer, and suffering that can’t be seen, which describes our tendency to assume those who appear healthy have no health issues. Sr. Karen also writes of the importance of physical exercise. She recommends integrating prayer with exercise and provides a list of Internet prayer resources.
Overall, Sr. Karen presents a depth and variety of ideas sure to inspire individuals burdened by chronic illness and those close to them.