For several years, she was a force in Utah. She talked about wholeness. She drew people of various faiths together to speak with one voice against guns in church. She was here, and she was strong — and suddenly, she was gone.

But the Rt. Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish came back this week from a six-month medical leave from her position as Episcopal Bishop of Utah. She needed the time she said, "to do the necessary work to maintain my recovery from the disease of alcoholism."

So Bishop Irish is back. And she's still talking about wholeness.

"Does our culture support healing?" she asked an audience at Utah State University at a symposium on body, mind and spirit. She answered herself, "yes and no."

With our marvelous medical skills and with our renewed interest in ancient healing methods, our culture does favor health. However, as a culture, we are still fragmented. That's not healthy.

We are specialized. We treat our body as a collection of parts, and we emphasize the individual over the community. Bishop Irish said the "grinding forces" of a market economy encourage us to look out for ourselves, to think, "If I'm OK, then everything is OK." In truth, she said, quoting Wendell Berry, "The grace that is the health of creatures can only be held in common."

Tanner gave the opening address and also took part in a panel about the healing power of prayer at USU's annual three-day O.C. Tanner Symposium. The symposium is made possible with grants given by Bishop Irish's parents, Grace and Obert Tanner.

She spoke about fragmentation in her opening remarks. Afterward, when asked if she would return to her work, she said, "Soon. I'm just kind of integrating right now."

The concept of wholeness echoes through many religions and many speeches. As part of the panel discussion on prayer, Terry Treseder, who teaches Hebrew at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake, said some Jewish mystics explain the human body as a microcosm of the entire universe. "So that when we heal ourselves, we are healing God. When we do anything to repair relationships or the environment, we are healing God's world."

Rev. Ruth Eller of St. John's Episcopal Church in Logan said, "We pray with no expectation of miracles . . . only to help people toward wholeness. Your cancer may not be cured, but you will know that God and God's people are there with you." And she, also, can see how healing goes two ways. "When I pray for someone, I am put in touch with the pain in their lives. I'm being made whole by understanding I am part of a larger world."

This is one of the great mysteries: Why, when we call out, does God not heal us? asked Pastor Don Emerson of the Maranatha Baptist Church in Logan. He added that while many are not healed physically, he has never seen anyone who honestly seeks God fail to be healed spiritually.

So what becomes of our grief when we beg for our child to be healed and, instead, he dies? Where do we find comfort?

Bishop Irish said, "Because this is conference about healing, we are all acting like healing is the big thing." We talk of being healed, of being forever healthy and fit, as if enjoying perfect health were the only reason to exist.

"Health is not the big thing," she said. "The big thing is love."