Everyone knows that working out physically is good for our health. It is my goal to go to LA Fitness twice a week, but last week, I could exercise only once. I went there yesterday around 2 o’clock and came back home around 8. Yes, I spent 6 hours there. Wow! Can you believe I spent 6 LONG hours in LA Fitness? I usually go there for an hour workout. What happened yesterday was someone took my bag while I was taking a shower. Because I left my wallet and phone in my van, I didn’t lose anything valuable. So whoever the thief was, he took a huge risk for just a towel and my underwear. I almost felt sorry for him. Really. But, the problem was my car key was in the bag. The first thing I did after I realized my bag was stolen, I went out to the parking lot (with my swimming pants on) to see if my van was there. Thank God…, it was there.
What should I do next? I needed to be picked up to get the spare key at home. Then, I realized that I couldn’t call anyone because I don’t memorize any phone number. Wow! I used to memorize several numbers, but not anymore, because all the members I need is stored in the phone. So, with the help of the receptionist, I called the police and asked them to come and open my car door. In about 30 minutes, they came but they didn’t bring the tools for opening the car door. So, I had to wait another 30 minutes. Finally, they came and I could make phone calls. I called two nearby friends. Both of them didn’t answer. I left a message and waited… and waited… for about an hour. But, no luck! By this time, I was getting more and more anxious and hungry too. So, I hated to do so, but I called Anna Marie and she graciously dropped by my home and picked up the key and Elizabeth as well. And we had a nice meal in a Korean restaurant near there. It was a very interesting day of workout.
It’s been a long introduction, hasn’t it? Well, I told this story to get into this question: Can we work out spiritually, as well? Absolutely! Scientific research provides us with evidence for the following conclusions. Repetitive prayer and meditation are good for the body as well as the mind. Religious rituals can produce a sense of unity with others and with the world that is uplifting and humbling. And faith is both healthy and healing.
Dr. Herbert Benson, Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, published the results of his research on prayer and meditation in a book entitled The Relaxation Response. He substantiates that certain forms of meditation and prayer decrease oxygen consumption, respiratory and heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. He was able to replicate the results of such meditation and prayer by teaching patients what he calls “the relaxation response,” which involves sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, relaxing, repeating in your mind a single word or short phrase, and not paying attention to distractions. (By the way, these are what we do when we gather in contemplative prayer. I’ll say more about it in a minute). To stay healthy, Dr. Benson prescribes that we do this relaxation response for 15-20 minutes twice a day.
Other researchers have confirmed that meditation and repetitive prayer reduces activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe of the brain – the part of the brain that helps us orient our bodies in space. This may explain why deep experiences in meditation and contemplative prayer involve a reduced sense of “self” and a feeling of “oneness” with the space and world around us.
In a summary of their medical research on the brain, the authors of Why God Won’t Go Away remind us that: “The power of ritual lies in its ability to provide believers with experiential evidence that seems to ‘prove’ that the guarantees made in myth and scripture are true. Rituals allow participants to taste, if only for a moment, the transcendent spiritual unity that all religions promise.” (p. 96). We are able to taste this “spiritual unity” because of neurological processes and because of memory associations we have in our brains, which are triggered by the symbolic language and repetitive actions of our religious rituals.
In short, worship involving ritual evokes feelings and thoughts associated with hope and love. Our brains are “wired” for rituals, and that is why worship is good for us.
I think it’s enough to say about the benefits of spiritual excises. Let me say just one more sentence: According to a book, God, Science and Humility, Spiritual practices are effective in relieving 50 – 90 percent of common medical problems.”
So, I have no reason to apologize for asking you to spend Sunday morning in worship and for asking you to come to our Bible Study which will be focused on the contemplative prayers, and for recommending that you pray regularly and study scripture. This is all good for you! Working out spiritually is worth doing. Tell your friends and family members and join our Bible Study. A regular spiritual workout is just what the doctor ordered!
However, our goal, of course, should be more than relaxation and even more than good physical and mental health. Our goal is:
To deepen our spirituality or to renew our spiritual being
To learn a rhythm of prayer
To be in prayer with others for spiritual direction
To have a place that is intentional in prayer and the ordering of life
To have an oasis of retreat
Thomas Keating teaches “centering prayer,” which involves quieting the body and repeating a word that points to God. This simple form of contemplative prayer might be understood as a Christian form of the “relaxation response” described earlier. But Keating writes: “In this discussion of centering prayer, I am not exploring the methods that help to calm the body, mind and nervous system, such as breathing, yoga, and jogging. Such methods are fine for relaxation, but what we are concerned with is the faith relationship. This relationship is expressed by taking the time to open oneself to God every day….”
As I announced earlier, I have a plan to offer a Bible Study. We will meet every Tuesday afternoon for 6 weeks. What I want to do through these sessions is that I like to guide you to (let’s say) a Spiritual Window so that you can open it and feel the spirit of God and have an intimate, one-on-one communication with God. The more time we spend with God in prayer or meditation, the more we know about God and us, the more we know about God and ourselves, the more spiritual we become.
I will introduce and use various styles or forms of prayers, for example, Breath Prayer, Centering Prayer, Imagination Prayer, Lectio Divinas, and many more. I will not tell you what those are about or how we do them. (If you want to know about it, please come and experience it). Instead, I will just tell you my philosophy about it.
We are not at peace until we are rooted in true relationship with God, an organic and life-giving relationship. Until we reach that place, we may feel restless, tense, and dissatisfied in our soul journey. The 1st Psalm describes right relationship with the Creator as like a tree planted by a stream. The roots move toward water naturally and strongly. Fertile, watered land brings forth healthy plant and trees. The imagery of this passage is a strong invitation to move us forward in our faith journey.
When we look at our lives, sometimes we see ourselves in an uphill battle and find the way difficult. We feel uprooted and vulnerable. Our lives are not refreshed but withering. The psalmist said (that) the blessed is the one who meditates on the law of the Lord and faithfully pursues right relationship with God. Blessed is the one who desires true relationship with God.
The Spirit wants to fill us – fill us to the brim – with God’s power so that our lives are more joyous, more exciting and closer to God. So, come to the Bible Study or go to your Spirit Window and sit comfortably and Listen to your heart and slow down your breathing…to listen, …to listen to God. It will be an intimate, private, personal conversation with God that enables us to grow in our relationship with God. On our life’s journey, may we, like trees planted by streams, sink our roots deep into the living water. Then may we gradually be grounded in God’ spirit and bear fruit with a peaceful mind. Thanks be to God. Amen.