– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director
Over the past couple of months, I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon. I have been in situations recently where I’ve scratched my head in wonder. Each of these incidents have occurred at different times, but when I heard about them, I was immediately struck at the irony of them.
First, I was talking with a woman who was describing the newest treatment plan for her troubled adopted child. The counselor was using a new technique. She asked the child to begin a practice of journaling. Every day the child was to answer two questions and then write down her responses to them. The questions are: ‘What brought you great joy today?’ and ‘What during your day took away your joy?’
Wait. What she described to me is The Examen, a spiritual practice I often use with people in group settings or in Spiritual Direction sessions. It is used as a discernment tool, and helps people to understand themselves more fully. And here it is being used in a secular setting to help this child come into touch with her inward self.
Recently, I was talking with my doctor. He was happy to see that while I am still overweight, my weight has stabilized over the last year or so. This was good, but perhaps I might want to try and slowly reduce in any way that I could. He went on to tell me about a study done in Europe. The study focused on the eating habits of Europeans and how they avoid obesity. He said the study found that many who participated in this study tend to eat normally 6 days of the week, but one day in the week, they eat less than 500 calories. It has been quite successful in maintaining healthy weight.
Huh? That sounds like the spiritual practice of fasting to me. The Bible, and particularly Jesus, often talk about fasting as a normal practice of faith. Fasting was being recommended here in a secular setting as being a mechanism for weight control.
Another doctor’s visit and I was asked about my activity level. I mentioned yoga. I enjoy yoga because it is helpful not only for my flexibility, but also for strengthening my muscles and helping me with balance. This doctor applauded my participation in it, because yoga can be a form of meditation. And it has been found that meditation is incredibly healing in our stressful society.
Meditation? Again, a spiritual practice used throughout the centuries by Christians. Jesus often went up into the mountains to be alone for prayer and meditation. Study after study is being released about the benefits of meditative exercises in bringing about a sense of well-being in the busy lifestyles many of us are living.
Finally, I was with a study group, and I opened with a time of Lectio Divina. One of the women was new to the group, and it was her first encounter with Lectio. Afterwards, as we were discussing their reaction to this spiritual practice, she was the first to jump in and offer her experience. When she was finished, she, a teacher, sheepishly said, “We do this in the classroom, but we call it “close reading”. It’s a tool we use for helping the kids to focus, and to help them understand what they are reading.”
The educational system has incorporated a spiritual practice into their programs to aid students in learning. Albeit, they have renamed it, but it is, in essence, the same. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of the Church. Many in the early church did not read or have access to a Bible, so listening was an integral part of contact with the scriptures. Ignatius of Loyola often used a type of Lectio to help people in their imagination. He believed that if we could imagine ourselves in a gospel story, we would have a more intimate sense of being with Jesus.
So, where is the irony?
I found it to be significant that while the Church is rediscovering the Spiritual Practices as worthy to integrate into their daily lives, the secular word is embracing them. The world is seeing these practices as being helpful in the well-being of the person as a way to promote wholeness by encompassing the entire person: body, soul and spirit.
My reaction to each of these situations was to first feel somewhat validated that the practices are scientifically worthwhile. There is time being taken to investigate these ancient disciplines, and see significant advantage in their use. Studies, such as this one, have shown this to be true: http://fullyawaremind.com/what-fasting-does-to-your-brain/
Additionally, my thoughts went on to wonder if the world feels the lack of spiritual connection, and in turn, is seeking these tried and true practices to aid in areas where other things have been tried and were found to be lacking. What an opportunity for the Church to reach out to the world, and with discernment, use the Spiritual Practices to help bring about healing.
My conclusion to these separate situations was to take heart. Truly, practicing the Spiritual Disciplines are good for you!