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God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine


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A modern doctor finds wisdom in Hildegard of Bingen and the healing practices of the past
Prize-winning author and physician Dr. Victoria Sweet, this year’s Tzedek Lecturer in the Humanities, will share her story of how healing practices of the past have shaped her approach as a modern-day physician

In recent years, many people have embraced the “Slow Food” movement as one antidote to our fast-paced, fast-food world. But how many of us have contemplated the potential benefits of “Slow Medicine?” Are there situations in which it might be more efficient to be “inefficient?” How does healing actually take place, and what facilitates it? What can we learn from pre-modern Western medicine—in which the human body was regarded more like a garden to be tended rather than a machine to be fixed— that might be of value to us today?

During her clinical work as a medical student, Dr. Victoria Sweet became curious about the anima—that mysterious invisible force that animates the physical body. Several years later, she happened upon the works of Hildegard of Bingen, a medieval abbess who was a theologian, visionary, and medical practitioner. Thus began Sweet’s quest to understand the pre-modern view of the human body and healing, and her pursuit of a Ph.D. in the history of medicine. Serendipitously, her part-time job as a physician at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital—the last almshouse in the country—allowed her not only the time she needed to study and write, but also a living laboratory in which to practice some of the medieval healing skills she was researching. She learned to embrace the “efficiency of inefficiency,” and to get to know her patients on a deeply personal level, so that she could assist them in accessing their own inner source of healing—the veriditas, or “greenness” to which Hildegard refers in her writings. In short, Dr. Sweet’s Ph.D. studies and her more than twenty years of experience at Laguna Honda changed the way she understands and practices medicine.