What it means to be healthy in spirit
By Sedonna Prater, Director, Curriculum and Instruction for the Knoxville Diocese Catholic Schools
Have you ever heard the familiar phrase ‘healthy in mind, body and spirit’? There is certainly quite a bit of research conducted and presented on the lifestyle practices and factors that contribute to a healthy body in the physical sense. A healthy mind is one typically defined as having the cognitive capacity to function within society without deviant behavior that would impede or prevent successful, productive functioning. But, what does it mean to be healthy in spirit? What are the attributes of a spiritually fit person? How do we cultivate spiritual health in our children? To answer these questions, we have to go straight to the ‘heart’ of the matter.
Developing a healthy spiritual ‘heart’ begins with cultivating a habit of gratitude. A fit spirit is grateful for all things in life including those things that meet physical needs and comfort, as well as, those things that are intrinsically valuable such as love, kindness and mercy. Each and every day is a unique and special gift. It is a day given to us to enjoy and marvel at the beauty of creation. As it is a desire of the human spirit to seek beauty, harmony and unity, each day offers the promise of encountering and experiencing the beauty around us. When cultivating gratitude, it is important to open our hearts to contemplate, embrace and appreciate the beauty of nature, the ever-changing gifts of the seasons, the inspired beauty of civilization’s creations, and the beautiful faces of life. A healthy spiritual heart embraces each and every day as a day of opportunity to share with others the gift of living.
Having a healthy heart offers the prospect of a healthy life, but having a healthy ‘heart’ in the spiritual sense promises a happiness and health beyond human measure.
A healthy heart requires diet and exercise. A disciplined diet for the spirit includes a healthy regimen of prayer, reflection and meditation. As childhood obesity is increasingly a health concern due to under stimulation and decreased activity of our young people, similarly, over stimulation from electronic technology, a rather passive activity can also have an adverse effect on spiritual fitness. Excessive stimulation through technology and media can leave little space for individual silence and reflection or the seeking of inner peace that comes from meditation or prayer. In addition, the development of integral listening and conversational skills can be greatly decreased because of lack of practice. However, dialogue and listening can be improved through another spiritually fit practice: the habit of participating in shared family rituals, values and beliefs such as belonging to a certain faith group, attending church together or having meals together. Sharing family values and beliefs through these activities provide the foundational structure for spiritual fitness. I fondly recall my childhood Sundays when we regularly attended church as a family and then went to my grandparents to have a Sunday meal in the company of my aunts, uncles and cousins. The meals were great, but the hours of sitting around the table talking and sharing are the most heart-warming recollections. Family rituals help us to establish a framework for our values and belief system.
Exercising healthy hygiene and cleanliness promotes a healthy body, while exercising healthy virtues promotes a healthy spirit. Clean living in the spiritual sense is moral living. Modeling the virtues of faith, hope, love and charity helps instill in children the practices of kindness, generosity, honesty, compassion and empathy. Service to others builds a healthy heart while increasing the capacity of love for self and others. Encouraging and promoting acts of kindness and charity through service activities help a child to learn and practice empathy, perseverance and humility. These activities encourage a child to move away from a self-centered focus to a global understanding and awareness of the needs of others. Service activities also promote a healthy self-esteem in young people, because they can learn to achieve a task or project successfully.
Healthy living requires a balance of healthy habits and practices to maintain physical, social and emotional health, as well as, spiritual health. Having a healthy heart offers the prospect of a healthy life, but having a healthy ‘heart’ in the spiritual sense promises a happiness and health beyond human measure.