Today’s guest blog is written by Boston, MA resident, and longtime journalist, Kim Shippey. Kim enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, reading, and playing sports. He is currently a full-time writer and editor with the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly print and online publication.
Ingenious advances in medical research have taught us more in ten years than in ten decades about mental health, especially in areas such as acute depression, loss of memory, and post-traumatic and obsessive–compulsive disorders.
Through exhaustive surveys, extensively and conscientiously covered in the news media, we’ve learned much about warning signs, and heightened our ability to take speedier ameliorating human footsteps.
But are we sharpening our receptivity to evidence of spiritual progress, illumination of the spirit–even the possibilities of the weak walking, lepers leaping, and the sad singing? Are we preparing ourselves to heal the way Jesus healed the demented man in the country of the Gadarenes (see Mark 5:1-19)?
A study published in August by University of Missouri (MU) researchers found spirituality often enhances health—particularly mental health—regardless of a person’s faith.
They wrote: “In many ways, the results of our study support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait. . . . With increased spirituality, people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe.”
Across five faiths, the MU researchers found that a greater degree of spirituality was related to better mental health, and specifically to lower levels of neuroticism and greater extraversion, with forgiveness a key spiritual trait. One of the co-authors said: “Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions” (© 2012 Curators of the University of Missouri, August 20, 2012).
As Christmas approached about three years ago, we faced some issues of mental health in my own family. They were not nearly as as serious as those just listed, but they were challenging. A relative in her mid-90s was dealing with loneliness, memory loss, and financial anxiety in an assisted living facility that was eating away her life’s savings. We, as family members, were trying to care for her from a distance and avoid feeling thoroughly depressed about her condition.
She welcomed our prayers in telephone conversations that were seldom truly private, but at times we were stretched to breaking point. We spoke to her as best we could about God’s love and our love for her, and thanked her time and again for her decades of mothering care–and tasty meals!
On Christmas morning, we booked into the hotel nearest to her facility and got permission to take her out for several hours. We reserved a recreation room in the hotel and set up a table in a corner near the crackling fire and exquisitely decorated Christmas tree. We forsook traditional fare for foods that were easy to eat and digest, and surrounded the tree with brightly wrapped gifts.
After that simple meal of soup and Jell-O, we gathered beside the tree for our ritual of singing well-loved hymns. Our special guest was invited to choose first, and she went straight for O Holy Night, her favorite, despite its demanding musical range. We leaned closer to prompt her when necessary, expecting some hesitation on her part. But as our a cappella rendering began, guess whose voice rang out most clearly across that otherwise deserted room! It was stronger than it had been in many months, and she prompted us through her firm leading. Her eyes shone like the Christmas tree ornaments. There was purity and purpose and conviction borne of experience in every word that flowed from her lips. She reached the high notes, and her memory was sharp and true.
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
By the time we reached the last lines, our eyes were brimming and our hearts were filled with gratitude.
That was our last Christmas together. But this year, as we sing around a different tree, it’ll be with just as much conviction and gratitude. And we’ll once again commit ourselves to proclaim, in the words of that hymn, God’s power and glory . . . forever more!