Spirituality and Health

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 Healing of the Paralytic 17th Century

I am not fond of ambiguity.  I would even say I am prejudiced against the use of certain words or ideas that appear to be intentionally ambiguous.  Spirituality is one of those words.  It is a word bantered around so often, and with such myriad meanings that it has lost much of its value as a descriptor.  Wikipedia seems to agree: Traditionally spirituality has been defined as a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals. Since the 19th century spirituality is often separated from religion, and has become more oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth. It may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience, but without a single, widely-agreed definition.  Recently I attended a conference on Spirituality and Healing.  Not surprisingly, it opened with participants sharing their definitions of spirituality, which tended to focus on feelings of peace and happiness.  Then it moved into demonstrations of various meditation methods aided by singing, chanting, dancing, reading scripture and imagining, and listening to stories that encourage reflection.  We were told that some of these aids were cataphatic, “seeking to fill the mind and screen out distraction,” and others were apophatic, hoping to “empty the mind until it is overwhelmed to the point everything else falls away.”     Matthew 12:45 popped into my mind, but I decided to try to be as open possible to hearing what was offered because maintaining focus on God is not a bad thing. Noting that we are body, spirit and soul, one leader suggested that sometimes physical movement can aid  in meditation.    We were taught a four-six part (I never did get it) “simple” dance step that we then practiced, holding hands in a circle, moving first clockwise and then counter clockwise. This is when all hope of meditation disintegrated for me.  Some lovely, throbbing music was added to the routine and I desperately concentrated on at least moving in the right direction and not tripping up my neighbors.  Swaying in place would have been good for me;  just plain walking even better. Chanting was the next practice we experienced.  The chants were good.

  •  Come, come, come, my heart says, Seek the face of God. (x3)
  •  Teach me your way, O God.  Teach me your way, O God. Teach, teach me. That I may walk in your truth, that I may walk in your truth. Teach, teach me. That I may walk in your truth, that I may walk, that I may walk in your truth.
  • Pray, pray.  Pray, pray. Love your enemy.  Love your enemy. And pray, pray. Pray for those who harm you.

They reminded me of the Psalms.  The problem was I found myself getting bored with the repetition and unable to focus on anything at all. The next meditative practice, singing a Taize praise song,  I found more helpful.  Each solo verse was a sentence followed by the refrain, “Let us sing to the Lord.”  Here are a few of the verses:

  1. All creation bless the Lord; and you angels of the Lord, praise and glorify the Lord.  Sun and moon, bless the Lord; and you, night and day, bless the Lord, and you, night and darkness, bless the Lord.
  2. Praised be Christ, He is our hope.  He is the joy of our hearts. Compassionate and gracious is our God.
  3. My soul glorifies the Lord.  My spirit rejoices in God.  The Lord has done wonders for me.

We then spent a little time talking about interpreting scripture by “placing ourselves” in the assigned reading, Luke 5:17-26  (Jesus healing the paralytic man). Participants then shared their thoughts, imagined as one of those present.   Observations ranged from the “dismay” of the homeowner because their roof was destroyed, to the joy of the man healed, and my favorite, “apparently Jesus is more interested in forgiving sins than healing bodies.” (This was pretty much the only reference to healing during the day.)  I think this practice could be helpful, especially because I know the stories so well that often I don’t give them the attention they deserve.  Because of familiarity, sometimes I read the reports of Jesus’ healing actions in a flat and depersonalized way,  when to those affected they were extremely personal and specific, amazing, puzzling, awe inspiring. “Who is this,” they must have wondered,  “that makes lame people walk, the blind see, the leper clean?”

Lastly we were regaled with classic storytelling, something I am a little familiar with because of my Bond and Randolph ancestors. Our speaker, an enthusiastic teller,  was received with a range of reactions from enthusiasm to disdain.   He both told us, and showed us that sometimes we learn better by entering a story than we do by direct instruction.  Behold Jesus’ parables.  We were taught how to listen to a story.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Allow yourself to cross the threshold.
  • Allow yourself to “be grabbed” by images in the story (even ignore the rest of the story if you’ve been grabbed).
  • Postpone “thinking” about the story for a while.
  • What reactions or emotions does the story elicit?
  • What do you think the story may invite you to do, think about, explore further?
  • How does the story connect with your own religious, spiritual persuasions?

(If I had followed the directions I would have stopped at “cross the threshold” and ignored the rest, as it seemed a magic phrase to me.)  All of his stories were entertaining, if a little too detailed and long, but good stories that reminded me of Aesop.  The problem I see with meditating in this way is that I interpret things according to my worldview so what I take away from the story is my reality, not necessarily the the Real.   I enjoyed learning a little more about meditative practices and what spirituality means to some today.  It reminded me we are all searching for meaning, significance, peace, and home.  It made me think about how I can be more faithful in mediating on the triune God, the author and finisher of my faith.  The only way to know and love God is to meditate on Him as He has been revealed, certainly not how I might imagine Him.

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