THE DOCUMENTARY “Your Health: A Sacred Matter”
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 7 p.m. on WLIW/World (Optimum Ch. 132, Fios Ch. 473)
WHAT IT’S ABOUT This two-hour film, “Your Health: A Sacred Matter,” explores the intersection of faith and health, and how the former benefits the latter. In the unequivocal words of Harold Koenig, director of Duke’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health — and author (“The Healing Power of Faith”): “Religious involvement, religious beliefs and practices are good for your health . . . [because] they promote greater well-being, greater happiness, better mental health, healthier lifestyles, greater social support and ultimately better physical health and faster recovery.”
Sea Cliff native Michelle Martone — who suffered a brain injury — is also profiled in the second hour. This is produced by Gerald Krell, who has produced many public-TV documentaries on faith and interfaith issues, including “Jews and Christians: A Journey of Faith.”
MY SAY On the evening of Feb. 22, 1988, Martone was outside her dorm at the University of Chicago when she was struck by a car driven by an elderly woman and dragged 40 feet. Her head struck a curb. Martone suffered devastating brain trauma and was near death. Multiple surgeries were followed by extensive rehabilitation, family battles with insurers, then a lawsuit, and finally a settlement, which allowed the rehab to continue. Her story wraps this jewel of a documentary, and it does seem like an especially good place to end.
Robbed of a different future and nearly her life that winter night, Martone doesn’t seem all that bothered by the one she ended up with. She smiles and laughs often — in this brief portrait, that dazzling smile and laugh are their own special ministration to viewers. She is surrounded by caregivers, like Jenetta Bagby, who thinks of her as her own daughter. Martone’s mother, Marilyn, formerly an associate professor of moral theology at St. John’s, now sees her daughter as “my road to salvation.”
Michelle Martone’s story is tragic, except that she decided to interpret it otherwise, according to this film. Faith allowed her to do so — per “A Sacred Matter” — because faith helped her heal.
That’s the key message of “A Sacred Matter,” and the moral, too: “People who attend religious services will on average live years longer” than those who don’t, says Linda George, associate director of Duke’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. “Science can’t ever say whether God heals, but it can prove how belief in God heals.”
“A Sacred Matter” is ecumenical in approach, and exhaustive — sometimes to a fault — in analysis. Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths are explored with respect to wellness, along with an extended look at Navajo healing practices. It looks at the importance of faith in palliative care, and pediatric care, especially for parents. It further argues that “spirituality as part of medical care” — in the words of Christina Puchalski, director of the GW Institute for Spirituality and Health at George Washington University — has established a foothold in the medical establishment. That, in itself, is a return to the past — the long-ago past — when faith and medicine were interdependent or occasionally interchangeable.
As informative as these overviews are, “A Sacred Matter” does allow its attention to wander. Other topics are discussed, like meditation and addiction recovery. They’re vitally important subjects, but it’s unclear why they’re part of a program on faith and healing.
Both hours are good, but the second (beginning at 8) is perhaps a little more on topic. Best of all, that one ends with Michelle Martone, who says, “I believe God has me in his vision, and that he’s thinking, ‘Let me give Michelle the best life possible.’ ”
BOTTOM LINE Exhaustive overview of a big subject — faith and healing — with a couple detours, but wraps strongly.