By the Rev. Dr. Marta Illueca.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19–20)
To approach the subject of spiritual wellness, let us reflect on how our being was created in the image of God. In rethinking who we are, those all too familiar first two chapters of Genesis unveil God’s masterful creative protocol: first the body, then the soul, and finally the intellect. God’s word created our generic humanity through Adam (meaning earth, from the Hebrew adamah), and then God breathed into us to make us living souls (spiritual beings) and proceeded to switch on our intellect through the mandate to name every living creature (a mental function). Once we received these divine tools, we became functional beings charged with overseeing and administering God’s creation. Our whole being is permeated by the creative word of God, a loving and
life-giving spirit that perennially builds up and sustains us. Then how do we practice and cultivate spiritual wellness? The first step is to acknowledge the multi-layered makeup of our own created being, and sacred scripture is an inspiring source of wisdom in this respect. We can easily discern our three natures from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews:
“For the word of God is living and active…piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Nowadays, we hear how science is validating the body-mind connection, yet a greater area of inquiry demands a space within healthcare research, related to the body-mind-spirit connection. The traditional
biomedical model of a disease’s cause and effect is being replaced by the biopsychosocial model that includes the environment, and there is still a need for an all-encompassing biopsychosocial-spiritual model of healthcare.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor. 4:7–9).
Wellness is a concept that deserves a second look because it may help us redefine our understanding of our true nature. In the 1946 Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization adopted by the International Health Conference in New York, the World Health Organization defined health and wellness as “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The National Wellness Institute, formed in 1977, adds an important dimension to our understanding of wellness as “a conscious, self-directed, and evolving process of achieving full potential.” Wellness applies to the physical, mental, or spiritual dimensions of being. According to the above definitions, self-awareness and intentionality help to inform our behaviors conducive to a healthy and productive lifestyle.
As children of God, we can appreciate that our spiritual nature is the comptroller of our body and mind. Spiritual wellness is a much-needed grace in our life, one that we can cultivate, practice, and thrive with. Spiritual wellness practices include prayer, meditation, contemplative exercises, and any activity that deepens our inner peace and brings harmony to our day-to-day interactions. Caring about our wellness can help us protect ourselves and loved ones from societal maladies that are affecting our longevity — hopelessness, depression, mental imbalance, and chronic stress to cite just a few. In addition, the opioid crisis and the growing epidemic of chronic pain conditions are severely scourging our society. A recent Institute of Medicine report indicates that more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain conditions with their attendant disabilities, and costs for treatment of these are as much as $635 billion per year. 1
Therefore, spiritual wellness is crucial to our self-care, and it is a great commodity when we strive to renew our life in the joy of the spirit. After all, self-care is crucial to our ability to comply with Jesus’ mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is hard to love others if we do not love and properly take care of ourselves. Since spiritual wellness entails our self-initiative and conscious participation, we can start by the simple practice of remembering three things:
- acknowledging we are children of a loving God who created us in his/her own image;
- recognizing and nurturing our living spirit, the comptroller of our life; and most important,
- realizing who our creator is.
In our Christian tradition, Jesus explains it thus: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24). With this practice, we can see ourselves as made in the image of God and are full spiritual beings.
Once we find a comfortable and safe space in these realizations, we can better handle our daily stresses. We can be more discriminating about what thoughts and what emotions we allow ourselves to have. We can stop our negative tendencies in their tracks, turn our thoughts to that safe haven that is our own faith in who we are, and access the creative love of God constantly.
Our creator who designed us in his/her image, created our spirits, formed our intellect, and made our bodies, is accessible to us through our spiritual natures. By honoring our spirit, and curtailing anything that spells negativity, we are already on board with God’s original and eternal intention of joy and goodness for us:
“And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1).
This article is based on the Spiritual Wellness series by the Rev. Dr. Marta Illueca given at Grace Episcopal Church, Wilmington, this past summer. Illueca is a physician and the curate at Brandywine Collaborative Ministries, Wilmington. firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Committee on Advancing Pain Research (Care), Institute of Medicine (US), and Institute of Medicine. Relieving Pain in America: A blueprint for transforming prevention, care, education, and research. National Academies Press, 2011.