Eternal life means living spiritually

And to think I thought my life was over! I hadn't even begun to live!

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of articles on aging gracefully. In Every Man a King, Orison Swett Marden muses, ‘Better than the art of growing old gracefully is the secret of not growing old at all.” Although Marden’s 1906 “secret” focused on how mind and thought can influence one’s longevity, today’s headlines portray the “secret” as a pill which purports to extend the normal human age span an additional forty years. ( Can people really die of old age?) Not to be outdone, demographer Aubrey deGrey published in the Annals of New York Academy of Science, that “[those] born toward the end of the twenty-first century may well have a life expectancy exceeding 5,000 years.”

Science may claim the ability to prolong earthly life indefinitely, but Jesus offered eternal life as something in the present. He said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”(John 17:3 KJV) His point was not so much to seek a record-breaking mortal body sometime in the future but to find one’s present and forever unity with the life that is God, Spirit.

Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy, who surpassed the normal life expectancies of her 19th Century generation by 35 years, noted that Jesus uses the present tense when talking about eternal life. She wrote, “‘This is life eternal,’ says Jesus, is, not shall be; and then he defines everlasting life as a present knowledge of his Father and of himself, — the knowledge of Love, Truth, and Life.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 410)

This approach to longevity is notably different from taking a pill. It involves turning away from human means toward a spiritual understanding of Life to support one. How is this possible? Is it really practical?

Take the experience of a very elderly woman, who had a debilitating disease and pleaded to be left to die. Her caregiver, a Christian Science practitioner, remained calm in spite of these demands and prayed for her patient, knowing the reality of Jesus’ promise, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. (John 10:10 KJV) As the observer notes, within eight days, the woman was sitting up, then walking and expressing radiant joy. Within two weeks she was healed and went on to live another fifteen years. Instead of enjoying a slow and sedentary elderly life, she went to work, dedicating her life to helping others find healing through prayer, as she had.

Two years after her healing, she was quoted as saying “And to think I thought my life was over! I hadn’t even begun to live!”

This shift from being overwhelmed by symptoms and dire predictions to embracing a spiritual sense of life in God, including an attitude of blessing others, is something St. Paul counsels in his epistle to the Romans: ”To be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6 KJV) To me, this is about “keeping my eyes on God” rather than on the petty concerns of my day. It means looking away from the things that would attempt to drive a wedge between me and God, and focusing on His loving omnipotence. For instance, when I’m genuinely aware of God’s goodness in the people and activities of the day, I feel joyful, and His presence and power bring harmony to those daily details.

Carnal-mindedness is what ninth century Hindu philosopher, Shankara, highlights when he says, “People grow old and die because they see other people grow old and die.” (Unconditional Life, New York, Bantam Books, 1991, p. 69). Along the lines of Paul’s reasoning, I’ve found that looking for God’s spiritual goodness and love in people allows me to see beyond the signs of aging.

In the pursuit of long and meaningful lives, spiritual-mindedness does offer an alternative to taking a pill. With our eyes on God’s constant loving expression, we can realize that our life is not the monstrously long perpetuation of a matter-based body, but the representation of an already eternal life in Spirit, divine Love.

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Resolutions Rebooted

With the confidence that we can “certainly fulfill” God’s demands for our better lives, why not be willing?

It’s that time of year when somewhere around 92% of us who made New Year’s resolutions, have lost the momentum of our efforts to change and are commiserating with St. Paul, “My own behaviour baffles me. For I find myself not doing what I really want to do but doing what I really loathe.” (Romans 7:18,19 – Phillips)  Despite the promise of better days ahead, the urgent effort for reform is dropped and we return to the old ways, in many cases with feelings of remorse, failure and guilt. 

What does this say about the effectiveness of willpower? Why does willpower tend to fall short in carrying out our good intentions?

Some mental health professionals have discredited willpower, even claiming that there is no such thing.  Other research shows that willpower defined as self-control is the key to one’s success. In his ScientificAmerican article of April 2015, Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist, reports on decades of research–both his own and others’, demonstrating that humans who exercise more self-control generally lead more successful lives. (Willpowerandhowtomakeitworkforyou)  The caveat, though, is that it doesn’t perform reliably. 

Amid such conflicting conclusions, I wonder if that irresistible drive to keep trying could be something other than my own flaky will to be better, and that the answer to better self-control lies in discovering more about what impels real reform.

The Bible points to the idea of dropping self-will and yielding to God’s will.  It also implies that the consistent desire to do right and the self-control needed to make a change, are spiritual qualities that God imparts to everyone.  St. Paul found this true and resolved his behavioral dilemma when he thanked God for His help through Jesus Christ and rejoiced,  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

In the gospel of Luke, there’s a great story of a crooked tax collector named Zacchaeus, who sought out Jesus among a dense crowd and was surprised when Jesus chose him as his dinner host.  Before it was over, Zacchaeus had a complete change of heart and decided to make amends for his greedy, crooked schemes. 

I love this story because Zacchaeus was irresistibly drawn to the goodness Jesus represented, which caused genuine reform through a power outside of himself.  It was not willpower that transformed his character, but the willingness to yield to the spiritual attraction of goodness.  This naturally resulted in a moral change.  Zacchaeus’ transformation was beautiful and fearless.  He was lifted out of his rut instantly and was blessed with the inspiration and practical action plan to carry out Jesus’ vision of him as a son of faithful Abraham.

That’s how I want it to be for me.  I believe that the same opportunity for spiritual growth belongs to each of us. For me, there is a peaceful assurance when I pray to yield to God’s good will. Then I feel God’s love for me and I find that the motivation and stamina to implement my life changes come naturally and from a power outside of myself.

Theologian Mary Baker Eddy, whose life illustrates the limitless potential one can realize through obedience to God, writes, “…progress is the law of God, whose law demands of us only what we can certainly fulfil.” (ScienceandHealthwithKeytotheScriptures, p. 233)

With the confidence that we can “certainly fulfill” God’s demands for our better lives, why not be willing? 

My friend had an interesting experience with this kind of approach.  She writes code for web design, and in the past, resolving high-level technical issues gobbled up days of work. Although she “soldiered through” to solutions, these problems stymied her productivity and wore on her.  Rather than stay in the rut, she decided to try a new approach.  When she met with the next impasse, she reasoned that “progress is the law of God, whose law demands of us only what we can certainly fulfil.” Then she allotted a reasonably brief time to solve the issue.  When the solution did not come, she reaffirmed her relationship with God as His child, obedient to Him, and moved along to another task.  She revisited the problem later, but in the meantime consciously anticipated an inspired solution.  And that’s exactly what occurred.  Her new practice of putting aside her own will and yielding to God’s will has improved her productivity and made her freer, happier, and more willing to tackle tough jobs.

Listening for divine inspiration and acting on it fulfills God’s law of progress and brings us naturally and gently into bettered selves— “…with God, all things are possible.”  (Matt 19:26 – KJV)  There is hope for this year’s waning resolutions.  No willpower is needed, just the willingness to do God’s will.

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All I want for Christmas is a good night’s sleep

Especially now, our rest time needs to be refreshing and satisfying.

A proper amount and quality of sleep are considered essential to an active, healthy life. At the holidays, lack of sleep can be a big issue. With the season’s demands, we can be loaded with everything from sending cards, shopping for gifts and special travel, to hours of baking and decorating. Especially now, our rest time needs to be refreshing and satisfying. Despite much advice on bettering one’s sleep, many people still experience varying degrees of sleeplessness that negatively impact their waking day.

 

Recent studies call into question the physiological basis for beneficial sleep. In the May 2014 Placebo Sleep Affects Cognitive Functioning Study, Christina Draganich and Kristi Erdal, found that patients who believed they had slept well outperformed those who believed they had not slept well, when in fact, the actual quality of sleep among the participants was just the opposite.

 

Although using sleep placebos is probably not a sustainable way to get more done in a day, this research does point to the mental nature of feeling rested.  In my experience, getting rested and refreshed is not always a direct function of the number of hours I sleep.  

 

This has led me to ponder a more spiritual approach to feeling rested.  One  dictionary definition indicates that “sleep” includes the requirement to “rest”.  According to the same dictionary, however, it is not necessary to sleep in order to experience rest.  The dictionary defines “rest” as “Quiet; repose; a state free from motion or disturbance; a state of reconciliation to God.”

 

Just what does this restful reconciliation to God mean? How does it happen and how does it relate to our need to sleep? To me, a restful reconciliation to God means feeling the comforting influence of Immanuel, “God-with-us,” giving me a spiritual sense of His loving support. I feel it in that special moment, for example, when willfulness yields to the divine will and a beautiful resolution comes about, often unexpectedly.  When this happens to me I realize deep inside that the good being accomplished is not for my own glory, but for the glory of God. Then I can let go of that exhausting burdensome feeling.

 

Even with fewer hours of sleep, sometimes over prolonged periods, the spiritual refreshment that comes with such reconciliation allows me to perform without fatigue whatever tasks are on my plate. To me, this is an illustration of what Jesus referred to when he said to his followers, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

 

In an audio podcast, “To feel rested and refreshed”, Kittie Burris, formerly with the FBI, and now dedicated to praying with people to help them experience God’s healing power, shares her experience of the practical benefit of Jesus’ invitation to the weary.  She was on an overnight assignment for the FBI; by 3 A.M. the excitement of her assignment had worn off.  She found herself petering out and dreading the 8:30 A.M. presentation and ensuing workday. In praying about the situation, Burris  was led to turn her thoughts away from her bodily discomfort and fatigue to God’s inspiring purpose for all of us of harmony and goodness. This resulted in the literal fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, “I will give you rest.”  The remainder of the night zipped by and although she didn’t  sleep, she was alert and refreshed, not only for her entire day but well into the next night as guests arrived for an overnight stay. By turning away from the temptation to dwell on her lack of sleep and the associated possible consequences, she allowed herself to dwell on the Christ spirit, which in turn blessed her with a successful assignment, an unrestricted workday, and a joy-filled evening.

 

Letting that divine influence or Christ turn us away from the frenzy of the season and guide us in God’s loving purpose, we can work extended hours while literally feeling refreshed and joyful. This verse from a loved hymn portrays the promise beautifully:  “Happy the man whose heart can rest/ Assured God’s goodness ne’er will cease/ Each day, complete, with joy is blessed/ God keepeth him in perfect peace.”

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Comfort, not loneliness, this season

For many, the holidays can bring on a sense of loneliness and isolation.  But this need not be so.  

Many advisors today encourage looking at each moment of each day to find reasons to be grateful.

Often, though, it takes a stronger anchor than positive thinking to break through loneliness. An approach that recognizes a divine Love and power always with us can actually heal loneliness and make our holidays rich and joyful.  

In the Bible’s book  of Romans, the apostle Paul defines our unbreakable relationship with divine Love: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In fact, biblical heroes such as Job, Elijah, David, and Jesus found that times of isolation afforded the opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with God. And through divine comfort and inspiration, resolution and healing followed.

This healing comfort and inspiration are available today and are just as effective now as then.  In the December 25, 2000 Christian Science Sentinel, Betty Garner shared her own story of overcoming years of holiday-induced loneliness and depression.  Inspired by Christ Jesus’ instantaneous healing of the paralyzed man who had been waiting 38 years by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-17), she realized her own sense of hopelessness and isolation, especially at the holidays, paralleled his. “I felt such great compassion for that man at the pool,” she wrote, “and knew that like him, I could feel the touch of the healing Christ…When I saw that my spiritual identity had always been with God, who is divine Love, I understood that I’d been made spiritually whole and complete. The feeling of depression and isolation lifted, and it has never returned.”

How can such freedom come so easily?  In her textbook on healing,Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy shares a promise of the gentle healing power that comes with affirming our present union with Love. “The wintry blasts of earth may uproot the flowers of affection, and scatter them to the winds; but this severance of fleshly ties serves to unite thought more closely to God, for Love supports the struggling heart until it ceases to sigh over the world and begins to unfold its wings for heaven.”

Embracing our spiritual unity with divine Love can buoy us up above all sorts of stressful and/or depressing situations. By drawing nearer to God, we can experience the very basic message of Christ–Immanuel, or God with us.  In feeling His tender care and expressing more gratitude, we can find freedom from loneliness and joyfully anticipate good in each holiday activity this season.

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Change is gonna happen – blessing for all!

There have been times in my life when I thought I needed to change and then there have been times when life just shoved me out of the plane. Regardless, to make a progressive move, I’ve had to quiet fear and trust in something I believe at a deep level–that there’s a divine Love that is always going before me.

This week, Oprah Winfrey’s landmark television event called, “Belief,” encourages us to explore how our beliefs shape our experience. Wednesday’s episode, “A Change is Gonna Come,” illustrates the importance of getting beyond fearing some ominous unknown, and embracing the opportunity for spiritual growth that comes with the inevitability of change. I’ve found (most recently in a major career change,) that changing means more than complying with society’s norms and expectations. It’s an opportunity to better understand my relationship with an all-loving spiritual God. From this standpoint, I approach changes with the expectation of palpable goodness.

St. Paul promised the Romans, “… all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

In his earlier life, Paul (then Saul) was on a fast track in his career–gaining favor with the local authorities by going after the early Christians. Enter God’s plan! Totally unexpected to Saul, it promised huge blessings for humanity. Like it or not, a change was “gonna happen”.

“Still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” (Acts 9) Saul was literally knocked to the ground and blinded by the bright light that accompanied a “voice from heaven” (Jesus Christ). While still blind, Saul obeyed the divine orders and experienced not only forgiveness and a healing of his blindness, but a total reformation of character, resulting in his new name, Paul.

Leaving worldly aims and trusts behind and embracing spiritual values, means and practices required courage, deep commitment, and sacrifice. What enabled Paul to do this was a new concept of God — a loving God that has revealed our actual likeness to God, an understanding that provided him inner peace and perfect harmony. With his new, unflappable trust in God’s loving purpose and direction for us to live in accord with the unselfish standard set in Christ Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Paul repeatedly escaped persecution and overcame physical hardships while ministering to the infant Christian churches.

When asked if she believed in “change of heart,” the renowned Christian Science healer Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “ . . . there must be a change from human affections, desires, and aims, to the divine standard, ‘Be ye therefore perfect.’ … The human affections need to be changed from self to benevolence and love for God and man; changed to having but one God and loving Him supremely, and helping our brother man.” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896)

In my own experience, trusting the rule of perfect harmony has meant the difference between ignoring the “call to change” and embracing it with gusto, bringing myself into alignment with God’s plan.

A few years ago, a tumultuous work environment left me paranoid, anxious and desperate for a change. When I came down with the chicken pox and was quarantined, I prayed a lot. The experience deepened me spiritually and healing came with it. In fact, a couple of weeks after my return to work, I felt led to resign and begin a healing ministry through which I could help others as I’d been helped.

But as our retirement account dwindled, I was downright scared. My dream of helping others gain health through prayer now seemed like financial suicide. The years of work to secure a sound retirement appeared to be for nothing, and I resented that. But in the same way I’d prayed through the sickness, I made a conscious effort to quiet fear and see my life from God’s perspective. Soon, I started feeling more hopeful and glimpsed our future framed in unlimited opportunity.

Beginning with a friend’s surprise delivery of my favorite chocolates, things turned around. My newfound expectation of universal goodness found me encouraging my husband to go “estate saling”. He ended up becoming a helpful resource for one couple holding a sale. Out of gratitude, they gave him a car and when sold, it made our mortgage payment. Next, he came home with audiophile equipment that paid for two more months. God’s standard of perfection lifted my love and helped me appreciate my husband’s unselfishness. My character transformed from resentment to gratitude and from emotional instability to a settled peace. Today, the retirement account is intact, and my healing practice for others is a reality.

Like Paul, we are offered opportunities to change (oftentimes unexpectedly). It helps me to know that we, too, can humbly yield to God’s purpose for us; that spiritual growth inevitably brings positive change to our lives; and that the intended effect of those changes will certainly ripple out to our world and bless us all.

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You get to keep it forever

Some of my dearest friends live in Roseburg and in the wake of yesterday’s shootings, a permeating and tangible flood of love is pouring into their community. I found this promise in my hymnal – “Earth has no sorrow but Love can remove.” With that sparkle of hope, I share my own experience of love removing sorrow and my prayers for the dear families and friends of Roseburg.

She left us abruptly and without warning. I was advised to be grateful that she didn’t suffer.

That didn’t help.

The temptation was to turn inward, to wallow in the dark side of losing my mother. I found myself anticipating and fixated on an unfillable void. The future, how would it look and feel? I sat in front of the blank computer screen with a “very loud” proverbial clock ticking off the minutes before the memorial. Friends told me I didn’t have to say anything.

But I desperately wanted to get above the emotional upheaval. I wanted to share a sense of comfort with everyone. I knew that love would win.

An email from an insightful friend appeared in my inbox.

“Karla, when I was praying about your mom, I saw that everything you love about her, you get to keep. Why? Because she didn’t create any of the qualities you love in her; she reflects those qualities. God is with you and all of His goodness and love expressed in your mom is yours forever. Just as the moon doesn’t create light on its own, but only reflects it, your mom doesn’t create love; she just reflects it. The love that she loved you with was actually God’s reflected love. God and that love is still enveloping you.”

After I read those words, the eulogy just poured out and with that, came the confidence and grace to stand up and read it to a grateful group of friends who found in it, their own comfort and healing. I too felt deeply loved.

In my experience since, I’ve learned that our culture carries high expectations for the aggrieved; expectations that we may take for granted or as a normal process. Recent findings are concluding, though, that grief is not a linear, finite project which can be summed up in a series of stages such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In his January 10, 2015, NYTimes blog, “Getting grief right”, psychotherapist Patrick O’Malley, opines on the traditional grieving process. “THAT model is still deeply and rigidly embedded in our cultural consciousness and psychological language.”

Based on his own loss of a loved one, O’Malley has dropped that model and now works with an approach which reveres the deep love shared with the deceased.

I too have found that deep love is key in overcoming grief. Grief leaves little room in one’s heart for the anticipation of goodness, but unconditional love can break the stranglehold of grief and give the aggrieved a crack of light through which anticipated goodness can shine. Those simple concepts shared with me in the email helped me to break through the darkness of grief. I realized that God’s expression of love is constantly embracing us, but to experience this, especially after a death, God’s love cannot be sought in a physical body. In praying to overcome grief after my mother’s passing, I found that I had to look with faith for a reflected love that a body can’t provide. I had to look for inspiration in unexpected experiences, for moments of patient grace, for previously unnoticed outpourings of love that came in many ways. I had to get out of that negative fixation and really look for God’s tender care in every moment.

I had a faint inkling of what I needed to do. Several years prior, I lost a close companion unexpectedly and I dreaded her continued absence. In my prayers one night, I asked God to free me from obsessing about the picture memories that kept replaying in my subconscious. Instead, I cherished all of her non-physical qualities, qualities like companionship, joy, forgiveness, spontaneity, etc. It really helped me be much freer more quickly than I thought possible. I learned a valuable lesson about prayerfully seeking and being grateful for the spiritual qualities of a close companion rather than replaying the physical memories.

I’ve discovered that one of the most profound examples we have of “grief overcome” is that of Jesus’ foreshadowed departure. So tenderly, he reassures his disciples, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16:7 KJV)

By opening his disciples’ hearts to the anticipation of comfort and an even greater good, he prepared them for their futures – healing their fellow man, coming together in the Pentecost, and establishing the Christian church. Jesus blessed his disciples with the love he reflected from God, and despite Jesus’ bodily absence, they got to keep that love!

Even today God continues to guide and comfort, regardless of the circumstance.

The same Love is embracing each of us right now. It needs no physical body, it doesn’t rely on human habits or history. It doesn’t matter how we assess the stages of overcoming the grip of grief and the pain of loss. Our loved ones have always reflected God’s love – they represent God’s tender care for us.

We have Jesus’ promise, “I am with you alway” at the close of Matthew. Such Love is the all-encompassing Comforter. It is what we learn from our loved ones about Love. And we get to keep it forever.

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Who heals all thy diseases…

Incurable? Maybe not.

The August 27, 2015 Business Insider article portrays a married couple, Scott and Dana, who applied their skills as engineers to managing their diabetes. Determined to overcome the clunky mechanics of a type-one diabetic lifestyle, they literally hacked the computer “brain” of an obsolete insulin pump, and developed mathematical algorithms that learn, predict, and adjust for an individual’s bodily changes. Dana is now beta-testing an artificial pancreas. Their pioneering spirit and invincible “no-limits” mentality inspire and amaze.  But underneath the newlyweds’ expected long and prosperous future, lies the stubborn verdict of incurability–a subtle message that even the smartest and most proactive watchers of their health can only expect to manage what is considered an incurable disease.

Our culture seems to support the notion that there may never be a cure.  Organizations like the American Diabetes Association do not mention “cure” but encourage contributions to help “move closer to a cure” and to support those affected by diabetes with research information, education and advocacy.   Vascular Pharmaceuticals, a Chapel Hill pharma, dedicates its work to “addressing the complications of diabetes.” No one can oppose these compassionate efforts, but can we only resign to manage rather than cure disease?

From the perspective that man is purely biological, this verdict may appear reasonable, but from a spiritual perspective, where God is all powerful Love, there is every reason to hope.  In Genesis (1:26), God creates us in His image and likeness, blessed with spiritual sovereignty, and the Scriptures include many examples of how God’s unconditional love brings salvation, healing and cure.

It can happen today, too. Rosario Iris Corrotti experienced God’s powerful love in her healing of diabetes. In the May 14, 2015 Christian Science Journal Web Original, she recounts her struggle with diabetes and the transformation that started to occur when a friend offered her some things to read that fundamentally changed her concept of God to one of impartial, universal Love.  “The symptoms of diabetes disappeared and never came back,” she wrote.  “For me it was as though the chains—all those bonds that had kept me bound—had been broken. I had woken up to a completely new life.”

The Psalmist describes the power and willingness of God to completely heal those who turn to Him. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.” (Psalms 103)

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Are green spaces healing spaces?

Studies say a hike improves mental health. This is especially true if it helps one get a higher, more spiritual perspective on life.

I relish the day when my friend calls and says “we need to go for a walk.”  Her call is “code” for “let’s go hiking, so we can get spiritually above all this stuff that’s going on right now.”  Even though we climb low hills and rarely log more than six miles, our conversation climbs up out of our everyday challenges and we encourage each other to look at things from a higher, more spiritual, perspective.

Currently there are numerous studies expounding the health benefits of spending more time in natural greenspaces. For instance, in her June, 2015 article, “How walking in nature prevents depression,” Olga Khazan of The Atlantic reports on an in-depth study showing how natural environments are restorative and confer psychological benefits. And in Mark’s Daily Apple post, 16 Ways Green Space Improves your Life, blogger Mark Sisson shares 16 scientifically tested outdoor settings that have been linked to better mental and physical health.  He concludes, “We tend to focus on physical health, but mental health (which isn’t really separate from physical health) is arguably more reliant on regular exposure to green space.”  No one from the Pacific Northwest would argue these findings, but is it merely being in nature that improves our well-being?  Or could it be that hiking gives us an opportunity to get closer to the divine?

History says so.  The early religious pilgrimages involved extended periods in greenspace, divine inspiration, and presumably, improved mental health. The search for inner peace, mecca or deeper religious understanding carried thousands of soles uncounted miles, sometimes in harsh climates and over jaw-dropping elevations. These treks were not conducted because scientific studies showed a correlation between pilgrims’ hours in the natural world and their overall health and wellbeing.   Huston Smith sums up today’s revival of the pilgrimage as not motivated by the desire for “rest and recreation—to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage,” he writes, “is to throw down a challenge to everyday life.” Yet such quests for spiritual inspiration can bring not only inner peace but physical well-being.

My friend’s pilgrimage provides a good example.  She walked 800 miles across northern Spain on the epic Camino de Santiago trail.  When faced with increased temperatures due to a drop in elevation, her impervious all-weather boots became individual foot-saunas, which resulted in discomfort, swelling and eventually blistering.  At one point, she was in pain because of an infected foot, and she had three hours to walk before she reached the next town. She used the time to turn to God and pray to understand Him better.  Many of her favorite Bible verses, which she realized may have inspired pilgrims thousands of years earlier on this trail, took on deeper meaning as she walked.  This one, from Psalm 91, she found especially relevant:  “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.  They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”  Her foot healed before she reached the city, and she finished the rest of the pilgrimage comfortably.

Another friend summited Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S., a 2,700’ vertical gain in two-and-a-half miles. From the start, he had mostly bouldered trail to scramble, so muscle fatigue and the need for endurance kept my friend on his spiritual game.  Reaching out for a connection with God’s infinite love, he found comforting Bible verses and ideas coming effortlessly to mind.  He grasped the parallel between climbing physically higher and being drawn spiritually higher–closer to God–on this climb.  This quote by spiritual pioneer Mary Baker Eddy was especially helpful: “You say, ‘Toil fatigues me.’ But what is this me? Is it muscle or mind? Which is tired and so speaks? Without mind, could the muscles be tired? Do the muscles talk, or do you talk for them? ” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures p. 217 )

Seeing the mental nature of his challenges pushed my friend up and over those challenges.  As he reached the top of Mt. Washington, he realized that because he had consciously taken the opportunity to focus on spiritual ideas during his hike, he was able at last to see the glorious and pure harmony of God’s creation, which had remained unchanged throughout his struggles.  He returned from his hike mentally refreshed and ready to be productive in his work.

In hiking, the important part is to “summit,” to get to that place where, in our heart, we rise above everyday challenges and we don’t allow information from the five physical senses to cloud the pinnacle of God’s beautiful, spiritual creation.   We don’t have to locate ourselves in a forest before we can find spiritual peace!  Here in Oregon, however, it is easy to be in the “green”– there are so many hikes to choose from.  Why not go for a hike, use it as an opportunity to see the mental nature of your challenges, throw them down, and rise to a view of life as Spirit, Love?

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Retiring into our spiritual purpose, ending Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Association 2015 Report of Facts and Figures, projects the disease to be significantly more prevalent in the next ten years, but such predictions are tied directly to demographics. The overall population is aging, and with the sheer volume of boomers reaching ages beyond 75, Alzheimer’s cases in Oregon alone are anticipated to increase 35-44%.
Happily, some researchers are pointing us toward current trends that show how these projections could reverse. Most notable is the recent Rush University Medical Center study on aging that indicates the positive effect of meaningful and spiritual purpose in one’s life.

Currently, there are several well respected organizations validating Rush University Medical Center’s conclusions. For instance, the recent Alzheimer’s campaign presented by the Center for Applied Research in Dementia, Cameron J. Camp, Ph.D. (Director of Research and Development), challenges the common practice of calling Alzheimer’s a “disease” and opts instead to re-class it as a “syndrome,” thereby allowing society to integrate patients into mainstream culture and create opportunities for all to feel worthy and to have genuine purpose.

In Cleveland, Ohio, Peter Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. is successfully proving this approach. He and his wife founded the Intergenerational Charter Schools, where noteworthy academic achievement resulted when inner-city youngsters were paired with local retirees. Since their inception, Dr. Whitehouse has since conducted studies with the schools which provide evidence that elders are more mentally healthy when they have a reason to “stay alive, a genuine sense of purpose, and a community in which to do it.” In fact, the research connecting purposeful lives with healthy minds is so conclusive, that the 2015 White House Conference on Aging announced that the Surgeon General is working with YMCA’s across the country to host intergenerational events this summer to help inspire everyone to move more.

Moving more, especially while mixing generations, may be helpful, but it may fall short of the underlying need of elders. Dr. Whitehouse frames aging as our “unique ability to grow spiritually and mentally.” Will the American dream of retirement into a quiet, independent lifestyle, coupled with exercise class and regular volunteer work, support and push us to “grow spiritually and mentally”? The essence of this growth points to more than the mechanics of obligatory Zumba class and weekly shifts at the animal shelter. It is getting so inspired and spiritually invested, that we see past age limitations, we see beyond the boundaries of our peer defined lifestyle, and we thrive because we are genuinely striving to fulfill our divine purpose.

I have a friend who falls within the dementia-prone demographic and sometimes faces memory -related symptoms. I visit her often and have observed that reuniting with her spiritual purpose provides her better mental stability when symptoms flare up. We might, for instance, read the first chapter of Genesis and talk about how God creates everyone “in His image and likeness”. We often discuss His purpose and intent, and connect it with our own divine reason for being: to express His love and patience in our everyday experience and to bless those around us. We might share gratitude about our mutual blessings that come every time we meet.

Bible citations like these speak straight to the heart of my friend and me: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy) and “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” (Isaiah). Reaching out in prayer to God and affirming God’s divine nature as eternal good keeps my own thought filled with expectancy of good. These short visits with my friend invariably result in a healthy and grounded mental atmosphere, which means genuine comfort for both of us. Her family too, has noted the opportunity for longer and higher quality visits with her.

Understanding our purpose from a spiritual perspective brings staying power to our God-directed activity and hope to the victims of dementia. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded a daily print newspaper at the age of 86 and was mentally healthy throughout her entire life, advocated for health through spiritual laws. In her seminal work Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, she speaks of forsaking “the foundation of material systems, however time honored,” and later promises that “the purpose and motive to live aright can be gained now.”

For me, our culture’s mental health hinges on the willingness to think through the time-honored medical system of diagnosis, prescription, and eventual decline, and challenge its roots. Is it based on divine law or is it contrived by human convention? As more and more scientists like Dr. Camp and Dr. Whitehouse disprove the effectiveness of time-honored treatments, and we all (doctors, scientists and “all of us”) reach for inspired, spiritual solutions, the disappearance of Alzheimer’s is a definite possibility. “There is an end in sight!”

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Who should be worthy of forgiveness?

When I show up on Sunday mornings, I like to wake things up a bit. I like to send the kids off with some new spiritual tools to rev up the “normal” in their weeks. As a high school Sunday school teacher, I make sure that I am really, really prepared… podcasts, videos, new music, thought- provoking questions.  Also, I am equally prepared to toss the prep work and listen to what these kids need to discuss.  Last Sunday was one of those times when I threw aside my plans.

The first question went like this, “How do I get peace?  You know… after that shooting thing in South Carolina?  What was that about?”

I had been researching material for a column on forgiveness anyway, so I had the stripped down answer: “forgiveness = peace.”

“Ahhh.” (pause – heads nodding in agreement) “So what does that mean?”  We discussed Nelson Mandela’s decided freedom from all anger, bitterness or resentment, when released from prison. That was forgiveness. We touched on Joseph –  thrown by his brothers into a pit and left to die.  He then became a respected leader and ultimately saved those same brothers from starvation. That was forgiveness.  We talked about Jesus on the cross and his plea, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That was definitely forgiveness.

These cases of forgiveness contributed not only to the well-being of the forgiver, but also to the welfare of future generations.  All of this was profound, especially since it was still pretty early in the morning for a bunch of teenagers. I was pleased with the depth of our conversation and ready to get on with my lesson plans. Oops, not so fast.

Their second question went like this, “Great, but how’d they do it?”

My turn for a pause. I did have an example in thought, since I had been researching forgiveness. So, I shared my own story of sweat-equity-investment in volunteerism, a carefully planned, team project that turned to chaos on presentation day. It was narrowly (but effectively) righted, and when the dust settled, just one person lingered on my grudge list. That grudge grew and got carried around for awhile (ok, a couple of years). Finally, forgiveness was found and the new friendship was well under way.

In my case, realizing forgiveness happened in a moment; it was a revelation of sorts.  I perceived that we had both been doing our best, that the other guy was innocent – in fact, so was I. That realization, (which I gratefully attribute to God) gave me a painless opportunity to forgive and it gave me peace.  I was aware, too, that if we spent our future careers avoiding one another.  Well let’s just say that  as allies, the possibility to work on a project together that would bless our fellow humans (at least a small pocket of them) was much better.

So, realizing another’s innocence, is the key to “how they did it.”  (At least that’s what I told the class.)

With the question, “how do you do it?” now turned back to the class, we decided to try it – we decided to realize the innocence of the South Carolina shooter.  Out loud, we talked through the account in Genesis 1 of man created “in His image and likeness” – pure and innocent. We reasoned through the spiritual nature of God and came to the conclusion that since God is Spirit, we all must be inherently spiritual.  Why would He create anything less than Spirit?  We talked about God’s infinite goodness – we are His image, so we must also express infinite goodness.  In infinity, there isn’t really room for “badness” to be expressed or experienced.  We also found a connection with one another at a very foundational level – that we all share one Father – there was a deep sense of unity in Love; even with the shooter in South Carolina.

And that is how we never got to my lesson plan last Sunday.

It’s said that “unforgiveness is sort of like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” (Marianne Williamson)  That lingering sense of injustice, unreleased anger, or unwillingness to let “them” off the hook, can make it difficult to forgive and can lead to chronic stress and a host of health issues.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is defined by treating an offender as not guilty (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary).  By so doing, one finds peace, freedom to progress; even goodness.  Forgiveness is clinically linked to relieving stress, boosting the immune system and improving one’s overall health.  Psychologists and world thinkers alike, all get back to that same point – to forgive, the offender must ultimately be held innocent in our own hearts and then treated that way.

The interesting thing about forgiveness, is this: It starts with an individual and remains the work of the individual but when it is accomplished, it blesses not only the health and well being of that individual but the community and world in which she lives.

Jonathan Lockwood Huie says, “Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”  My Sunday school class would say, “Forgive others because God created them innocent so they’re worth it, and because all mankind deserves peace.”

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    Karla Hackney

    A lifelong resident of Oregon, Karla Hackney writes about the connection between spirituality and health from her perspective as a Christian Science healer. She also serves as the media and legislative ... Read Full
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