Keep calm and carry on

In this blog, I am musing about the influence of a national culture on how prayer is manifest in hospitals.  When asked what the desired outcome of spiritual care would be, a UK nurse in our Practice Advisory Group said it would be to communicate a sense of calm.  Another physician spoke about spiritual care as creating a feeling of home.  Interestingly, these outcomes or ends do not have an orientation to the divine or even necessarily the sacred dimension.  In this way, they represent a secular spirituality that has become more prominent as a national spiritual identity.  In our Canadian data, perhaps because we are located at a faith-affiliated hospital, more often the outcomes of spiritual care include some kind of connection to God, such as recognizing that God is with one during a time of suffering and that divine presence could give strength to persevere, or a way to make meaning in suffering.

The now common saying, “keep calm and carry on”, has its origins in the war years, when a motivational poster was created in 1939 to raise the morale of the British public.  The poster is evocative of the “stiff upper lip”, self-discipline, fortitude, and remaining calm in adversity which have been rendered into quintessential British character traits.  What are the lines between these clichés, national heritage (e.g., sites of worship and tourism such as St. Paul’s Cathedral), and contemporary expressions of spirituality in healthcare settings?

To what extent does the sentiment of “keep calm and carry on” represent a core dimension of spiritual wellbeing in the British context?

The history of a state church complicates a straight forward reading, at least from our standpoint in Canada where we have not had the same interlocked relationship between church and state, at least not in British Columbia.  Berger, Davie, and Folkas (2008) write about the dialectic of the religious and the secular that generates secular mutations of faith rather than straightforward replacements and displacements.  In the case of Britain, the decline of the Church of England, at least in adherents and attendance, is both representative of and the result of a remarkable secularizing trend that has institutional religion nearly disappeared from everyday life for the majority of British citizens (Brown & Woodhead, 2016).  Norris and Ingelhart (2011) posit that yesterday’s religiosity has evolved and reinvented itself today as diverse forms of personal spirituality.  On the margins, diasporic faith communities add vibrancy and continued engagement in institutional religion—whether Christian, Muslim, Sikhism, or Hinduism, to name just some of the current religious traditions visible in London.

To “keep calm and carry on” reflects a religiosity or spirituality that is more interior than exterior, one that keeps one’s beliefs and values quietly to oneself, and that does not necessarily require the referent of the divine to find meaning and comfort.  In the practical sense, the implications for spiritual care and chaplaincy of this kind of personal spirituality means relationships, visitations, and conversations are likely to be as important as prayer.  For our research project, this means we open our interpretations of the data to read prayer in its more secularized and personalized forms, that may or may not be inscribed with remnants of formality and transcendence, and that are embedded in relational, contextual aspects profoundly important to the expression of prayer.  In short, we see seemingly ordinary concepts of “calm” and “home” as entwined with spirituality and prayer.

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Berger, P. L., Davie, G., & Fokas, E. (2008). Religious America, secular Europe?  A theme and variation. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Brown, A. & Woodhead, L. (2016).  That was the church that was:  How the church of England lost the English people.  Bloomsbury Continuum.

Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2011). Sacred and secular: Religion and politics worldwide. Cambridge University Press.


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