Blending medicine with spirituality
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Brother Bernard on one of his visits to China.
Brother Bernard Seif blends together his interests in spirituality, natural medicine, clinical psychology and Asian culture in the plot of his newest book, Night Prayer: From the Office of the Dead, the sixth book in the series.
A Catholic Christian monk who is fascinated by the Salesian tradition (a way of living inspired by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal), he practices clinical psychology and Chinese medicine.
While the three seem somewhat unrelated, Brother Bernard assures they are linked.
"The Salesian family is a Roman Catholic community with many branches. Salesian spirituality respects all traditions," Brother Bernard said. "Chinese medicine is more than 5,000 years old. The main link between Christianity and Chinese medicine is the emphasis on the practice of virtue and reaching out to care for those less fortunate.
"Spiritually, both traditions practice meditation and regular prayer, though they differ in that Christians pray to and with Christ while Chinese people are primarily Daoists and Buddhists. We share what we hold in common and respect what is different. In that way we are drawn deeper into our own spirituality, i.e., deeper into Christ's message for the Christian."
He first became interested in the Salesian tradition at the age of about 13 when he went to a Philadelphia high school, then run by Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
Brother Bernard's interest in Chinese medicine began after he read works by Thomas Merton, a famous Christian monk.
"His writings about meditation and prayer influenced me greatly and his love of the East drew me to love it also. Eventually, I wanted to use that natural and non-invasive type of health care to help others," said Brother Bernard.
He has been helping people through Chinese medicine since the 1970s in Pennsylvania, as well as in China. His specialty, medical qigong, teaches healthy movement, breathing exercises and meditation.
"They (medical qigong doctors) take a history and, depending on their training, often assess the 12 pulses relating to organs in the body, look at the tongue, palpate the skin in order to determine various physical and emotional activities in the body," explained Brother Bernard of the practice.
He believes that because there is a connection between the mind and body in Chinese medicine, his background in clinical psychology blends with his interest in Chinese medicine perfectly.
When Brother Bernard is not practicing at his home in Brodheadsville, he is in China studying or sometimes treating people. He has studied in three Chinese hospitals over the years and is currently studying Mandarin, a language he has been learning for the past three and a half years.
"It's a very slow process," he said. "At least, it's teaching me patience."
During his recent trip to China, was invited to speak and teach qigong at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
Brother Bernard combines all his interests through writing his Office of the Dead series, which he said are "based on the prayers Christian monks and nuns all over the world have chanted for 2,000 years day and night, largely psalms, scripture readings and prayers for others."
For Brother Bernard, writing was a hobby.
"After many research papers and a doctoral dissertation, it was simply fun to write without the constraints of the scientific method," he said. "I could heal someone or bump them off, so to speak, whenever I wished."
Night Prayer is the story of Brother Francis, a clinical psychologist and doctor of Chinese medicine, who acquires ancient parchments that indicate that the founders of the Salesian tradition, Jane de Chantal and Francis de Sales, were involved in an ancient mystery. As Brother Francis travels from Pennsylvania to China, he must solve the puzzle and avoid death.
Brother Francis, although very similar to Brother Bernard, is a fictional character.
"Brother Francis is a character I made up but I found that I revealed more about myself through him than I thought," said Brother Bernard. "His goodness is a goal for me, not the reality."
While Night Prayer is a fictional book, there are some parts that are drawn from fact said Brother Bernard.
"I enjoy writing about my travels and adventures in my ministry, making up what I want to and simply blending that with actual events. Many of the events involving Jane de Chantal and Francis de Sales actually happened, but not all," he said. "I think about 50 percent of it is fact and the other 50 percent fiction."
Night Prayer is available online for purchase at amazon.com or through his website themysterymonk.com