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Healing essays

By a doctor priest.

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Healing Presence
Rev. Joanna Seibert, M.D., Temenos Publishing, $29.95 (cloth).

Joanna Seibert is a pediatric radiologist and an Episcopal priest, callings that bring her in constant contact with the sick and dying. She has composed, in first person and present tense, a series of essays — they read like journal entries — on the people her faith and expertise have brought to her life. The entries include pictures of the people, Bible verses and prayers and can be read one at a time as inspirational stories to ponder a bit.

Though Seibert relates the personal struggles of her patients and those seeking pastoral care, “Healing Presence” is not so much about comforting or spectacular insights into death. It is more about compassion, how to gird yourself to minister to the sick, and the surprising ways that work has brought healing to herself. The presence is, of course, God’s, and the book’s Christian dogma drives it. But it’s not preachy. In the story of her visit to a 91-year-old man in intensive care, he tells Seibert he’s “Church of Christ” and then tells her that “those who think their religion is the ‘one’ are greatly in error.” Then she asks, “Am I listening to a prophet?”

In “Healing Presence,” we learn about a grandmother who folds her dying granddaughter into her big arms, a mother who holds her child under a nuclear diagnostic machine so that she too is covered by the camera. Seibert writes, “That scene will always remain my image of the God who cares for those who suffer. He takes the test with us. God surrounds us with his love, gets under the camera with us, weeps with us ...”

One chapter is about Seibert’s visits with federal district Judge Richard Arnold as he lay ill and the prayers he wanted to say. They were for his wife, Kay. Seibert was reminded of the people in the Twin Towers who called home to express love, and say good-bye, and of partners separated by death, but not love.

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