Most people know that exercise, rest and a good diet are key to remaining physically healthy. They may not realize, however, that there are things that can be done to maintain and improve spiritual health as well.
Sister of Mercy Jody Kearney, director of Rochester’s Mercy Prayer Center, recently sought to rectify that problem. On March 6 she lead a retreat entitled “What is a Healthy Spirituality?” for the Winton-Culver Catholic Community in Rochester. The retreat was the first installment of the Catholic community’s Lenten retreat series.
Contemplation and action are two of the building blocks of a healthy spirituality, Sister Kearney said in an interview with the Catholic Courier. Catholics are called to spend some quiet time reflecting and talking to God, and they’re also called to take action by reaching out to help others. Each is equally important, and in today’s world, each can be equally hard to do, she added.
Cell phones, fax machines and e-mail help people keep in touch, but she said they also have helped to create a fast-paced world where multitasking has become a way of life for many people. Rarely do people slow down enough to accomplish just one task at a time, let alone sit and be still for several minutes.
“Stillness and quiet and reflection are important parts of our spiritual life. Take time for stillness,” she said.
When it comes to quiet, reflective time, Sister Kearney noted that quality is more important than quantity. Rather than trying to spend 20 minutes meditating, try being still for five minutes while enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning. On the way home from work, stop at a favorite outdoor place and spend a few minutes in nature. If there isn’t time to stop, turn off the radio and use the travel time for quiet reflection, she suggested.
If all else fails, just take five minutes before bed to review the day, she added.
“See where you found God in it. Think about the high point of the day and the low point. Ask yourself, ‘Where did I see God, and where did I miss him?'” Sister Kearney said.
This quiet reflection can actually bring a person to the next element of a healthy spirituality: Action. Reviewing one’s day helps a person realize what chances he or she had to reach out to others that day, whether those chances were taken advantage of, and what to do differently in the future.
“When we spend time in quiet to reflect on what really is important, we begin to do things differently. It brings you to a new awareness. The opportunities are right there in your lap,” Sister Kearney said.
Many people think they don’t have time to reach out to others because they believe it has to be a big commitment, such as signing up to volunteer at a soup kitchen every week, she noted. While those efforts are great, Catholics also can reach out to others in much smaller ways. Befriending a neighbor, helping a stranger or offering a smile to a passerby on the street are simple acts, but they can mean the world to the other person.
“We don’t have to add on to what we already do,” Sister Kearney noted. “There are opportunities in our everyday lives. Be as attentive as you can to what opportunities are before you each day.”
Contemplation and action are strongly linked, and both are necessary for a healthy spirituality. Just as the human body needs a balanced mix of different nutrients in order to stay physically healthy, Catholics also need to find a healthy balance between contemplation and action in order to stay spiritually healthy, Sister Kearney said. For example, she said it would be unhealthy to just focus on daily reflection without trying to help others.
“We can be developing our spirituality and ignoring the people next to us,” she observed.
When both contemplation and action are a strong part of a person’s daily life, however, the two elements will complement each other and help that person develop a healthy spirituality.
“We take what happens in our day and bring it into our prayers. What we notice in our prayer, we bring to who we are each day,” Sister Kearney said.