Berkeley Art and Interreligious Pilgrimage Project

From Molecule to Spirit: A guide to pilgrimages of healing for folks dealing with cancer and other long-term illness

Coming soon

From Molecule to Spirit?

Pilgrimage is, in the first instance, a spiritual journey. Human being, likewise, is predicated on corporeal existence, the molecular medium of the body. It is through embodiment that the agency of the human mind, heart, and spirit become possible.

In my cancer rehabilitation medicine practice, the initial clinical focus was on the body and its molecules. My goal was to leverage the abundance and capacity of healthy cells – mediated through the patient’s body and agency – to develop a path towards well-being and wholeness while living with cancer, ultimately culminating in spiritual awakening: an awareness of the preciousness of human life and wish to reach out to the world, independent of the severity or extent of the cancer.

This approach, as demonstrated by Phil Volker, helped inspire him to a spiritual pilgrimage, first in his imagination, then backyard, then Spain, and then into the hearts and minds of hundreds of people touched by cancer.  He turned the moniker “from molecule to spirit” on its head: molecule became spirit and spirit molecule.

So, let’s look at what pilgrimage might mean from the perspective of “spirit to molecule”. What I mean by this is that the starting place here is pilgrimage itself, grounded in understanding of its spiritual significance. This journey, as mentioned, is inseparably inseparable from the body – it’s trillions of healthy cells and co-existent properties of mind, heart, and spirit.

Whether one starts from the context of molecules (i.e., medical care) or from a religious or spiritual context (i.e., pilgrimage) is essentially irrelevant, because the ultimate aim is to come to a deeper understanding of and access to spirit and transcendent sacred space, regardless of the vehicle through which such profound potential is realized. 

About Your Guide:

David S. Zucker, MD, PhD, FAAPMR, is founding Medical Director and Program Leader of Cancer Rehabilitation Services at Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle.  He received his MD with Honors from Stanford University and, in addition, holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology.  He completed PM&R residency at the Mayo Clinic and an NIH-sponsored post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington.

Dr. Zucker is a pioneer in developing cancer rehabilitation medicine nationally.  He is founding and emeritus Chair of the Cancer Rehabilitation Physician Consortium (CRPC), a group of American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation physiatrists dedicated to improving functional health for cancer patients.  The CRPC has been instrumental in creating a national infrastructure for cancer rehabilitation medicine research, educational initiatives and strategic planning.   He has developed and implemented a care model grounded in the understanding that cancer affects “molecule to spirit” and, that by optimizing functional health throughout the disease/treatment trajectory, the person is better able to negotiate the emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of cancer and, in turn, better integrate rehabilitative self-management skills into daily life.  Dr. Zucker collaborates with the ACS, ACSM and other organizations in disseminating/implementing lifestyle interventions research into clinical practice.