Given an opportunity to ask for a boon, most people would ask for good health. Health has different components and physical health is just one of those. Other health indices include mental health, emotional health, intellectual health, social health, economic health and spiritual health among others. Health is often regarded as a state of harmony between body, mind and soul. Often people fail to realize that it is the frailty of the soul that makes persons weak and communities fragile and therefore sound research in the area of spiritual health is the need of the hour.
With lesser and lesser people showing keen interest in the God talk and in the realm of spirituality and religion it is important to think of the relevance of spiritual health in times like this. The major factors of life that are influenced by spiritual health include among others
- Life style- the ethics, the values and the morals that govern the life of individuals, families and communities
- Connections- the way a person connects to others, especially those in need and in the margins. Connections can also influence how boundaries are defined and transcended and how culture becomes a positive tool of engagement rather than disengagement.
- Care for creation- how a person cares for creation and thus for generations now and yet to be
- Meaning and Purpose of Life- the answer a person finds to the question- Why do we live
- Transcendence: The assurance of the beyond and the understanding that the here and now can influence the hereafter
- Firm foundations- having the anchor of faith, hope and love that provides inner peace and strength to face any turbulence with tranquillity.
There are several aspects of spiritual discipline that contribute to the formation of personalities and the behaviour of communities. They include scripture, statutes and sacraments, rites and rituals, belongingness, identity markers, sacred spaces, sacred objects and religious practices.
I have had the opportunity to sojourn with one of our dear colleagues during the last phase of her life. Of the many conversations we had in helping her find strength in the Lord and the confidence and hope required to submit to the timing of the Lord there were some salient features that stood out.
- Rites and Sacraments gained much more meaning and significance than during physically healthier times
- Began to appreciate life and the blessings of God much more and learned to be thankful to God and to several people who were till then taken for granted
- Valued relationships much more and enjoyed the company of people rather than spending time in isolation and to oneself.
- An audit on the wise spending of available time became a habit and wished that were part of life much earlier
- A desire to re-prioritise on what would eternally count and what would be temporal and temporary.
In Philippians 4 Paul writes of Nine Indices of Spiritual health. He is thanking the church for their Christian nature and for their heart of giving but in the discourse sets forth the characteristics of Spiritual health.
1. Joy in the Lord
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (v.4)
To be able to smile at any storm, at any circumstance, at any person is a great blessing and being able to rejoice in the Lord whatever the context is is a wonderful experience. This inner joy is the primary characteristic of spiritual health and cannot be easily stolen away once there is a strong and deep connect with God
2. Gentleness in demeanour
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (v.5)
Spiritual health is best evident in the way a person or a community conducts himself or itself. Gentleness is a way of life that reflects the inner resilience and spiritual strength. It is not easily angered, does not give in to hatred and violence and attempts to keep communal harmony by trying not to disrupt it in any way.
3. The freedom from anxiety
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (v.6)
The greatest killers of the present day are anxiety, depression and worry. Stress disrupts physical health, mental health and busts emotional health. But if the anchor of faith and the propellers of prayer and petitions are functional then anxiety paves way to an inexplicable calm. That is the indicator that the spiritual pulse is beating in normal rhythm.
4. The Peace of God
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (v.7)
The Christ experience is marked by peace. The speciality of this peace is that no one would be able to fathom it unless they experience it. It transcends human understanding and has the capacity to guard the heart and the mind in Christ Jesus.
Peace is turning out to be evading individuals, families and communities today and the reason for war, violence and victimisation is the growing distance from God.
5. A life of morals and values
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (v.8)
Ethics, morals and values and the commitment to justice, truth and love seem to be much compromised these days. This can be restored to the centre points of life only in a context where spiritual health is given the prominence due to the same.
When thoughts become true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise worthy it reflects in character and the witness.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (v.12)
The tragedy of the world today is human greed. It is greed that makes nations to go for war, to make weapons of mass destruction, hoard food, contaminate air and water and destroy creation. Greed takes away the joy of the family and gnaws the very fabric of community life. Plundering and amazing have become a bane for joyful living.
However the joy of having Christ within is learning that mystery and secret of being content in any situation. Whatever we have is a blessing. Sometimes it is impossible for us to fathom its meaning.
7. Strength to face Challenges
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (v.13)
People give up too soon when they fight the battle alone. Quitting affects the very rhythm of life. They become tired too soon when all the onus is only on them. Paul affirms that Christ gives strength to do all things. When we face challenges in life having a companion who stays with and shares strength is a great blessing and that is the beauty of spiritual health.
8. Giving to People in Need
They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (v. 18)
Paul is commenting on the giving of the church. They were able to sense need and send support to the persons in need and being able to reach out to people in times of need and crisis is blessed indeed. Paul calls that gift a fragrant offering and an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. One of the key questions that could add meaningfulness to life is whether what we do is pleasing to God and what we give has the fragrance that is acceptable to God and evident to humanity.
9. A Life in Grace
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit (v.23)
Generations have tried to fathom grace but has been only partially successful. Grace is God reaching out to the sinful humanity pouring forth God’s love and inviting people to the Divine embrace. Being spiritual is being able to respond to the invitation of God and to participate in the making of and living out the community of grace.
Spiritual health is thus the window to inner peace and to look forward with hope to the beyond. The Church is the Consulting space where a proper diagnosis and prognosis of the present spiritual health is made possible and a fresh and revived new beginning sought for.
Rev’d Vinod Victor
Chaplain, Anglican Church of Freiburg
on July 1, 2022