Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
"Purify yourself and you will see heaven in yourself." St. Isaac of Syria
People often see the spiritual life as superfluous. Prayer does not seem relevant and church attendance even less so. The "rules and regulations" that make up the content of much of what passes for spirituality are off-putting, seen as cultural relics of a less enlightened age. Some of the trappings, I admit, do obscure the point. But I suspect that the real problem is that the spirituality (or lack of) people have been taught simply does not work. It makes no discernible difference in day to day life.
A remarkable thing has occurred! Modern science, particularly neuroscience, has discovered that spiritual practice does work! Meditation, prayer and liturgy affect he brain by literally opening neural pathways to such things as peace, compassion and sensitivity like nothing else seems to be able to do. Meditation and prayer can literally accomplish the lowering of blood pressure for example and cholesterol levels (although one shouldn't forget diet!) and can increase the amount of grey matter in the frontal lobe even in those of advanced age. How much time does it take? Researchers say as little as 20 minutes a day! There is much scientific evidence to show that developing an authentic spiritual practice can be an effective treatment for depression, OCD and other psychological disorders. Simply put repetitive spiritual practice rewires the brain which science has discovered is remarkably flexible and changeable. The code word is neuroplasticity. Perhaps that is why we say so many "Lord, have mercies."
I am saying all this to make one simple point. Authentic spirituality is not irrelevant. It can and will bring changes to life that is discernible and positive. We simply have to apply ourselves to it. It takes effort. It demands that we stick with it even when we don't feel like it, when we are too tired, or too busy. If we can't find time for meditation and prayer the problem may well be that we have not looked for it. We can find time for everything else we want to do, can't we? The secret is that we must practice spirituality for it to effect these changes. It is like practicing piano. If you want to get good at it, you have to practice, often and consistently.
In Christian terms we "put on the mind of Christ" through our meditations and prayers. We are doing the work of purifying our hearts by turning from the things that are unholy (read also, "unhealthy") to those things that are holy (read here, "healthy"). Through such time-honored practices as repetition of the Jesus Prayer or meditation on Holy Scripture or the nurturing of silence we cleanse (yes, "rewire") our minds and our senses and discover when the fog has finally cleared that God really does dwell in the depths of our hearts. The Liturgy becomes a place of healing as we practice together with others. We discover the great secret, the pearl of great price: "the kingdom of heaven is within." As a marvelous side-effect, our lives become more calm and peaceful and the ability to live more effectively and wisely increases. Science is simply lending us a hand. Although science cannot explore the element of Divine Grace that is involved in meaningful transformation, it can examine the results. We are co-workers with Christ and so our effort, joining together with the Holy Spirit, is vital. "Faith without works is dead."
Yours in Christ,
V. Rev. Antony Hughes, Pastor