Healing for Mind, Body, and Soul

I recently came across and article in Scientific American that really intrigued me. As we (fingers crossed and prayers said) go into the diminishing phase of Covid with its strange ailments, long-term effects–and trust me, I know about these–its indiscriminate taking of life, closing of churches, separating of loved ones, and alienation of those who most need socialization, I have become keenly aware of the rise in mental health issues and disorders, including in my own inner circle. It seems that the world has fallen into a deep pit of despair, and our lives have become meaningless and out of focus. We have lost the spiritual connection that is necessary to thrive.

Enter, David Rosmarin, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the McLean Hospital Spirituality & Mental Health Program. In his study of psychiatric patients throughout the pandemic, he found that prayer increased significantly in March of 2020 and continued to rise throughout the year despite the closing of houses of worship. He found this to be an extremely important find since “Spirituality has historically been dismissed by psychiatrists.” He noted that, in 2020, American mental health sank to the lowest point in recorded history with diagnoses of mental disorders increasing by 50%. The use of alcohol and drugs rose as did contemplation of suicide. YET the mental health of those patients who attended religious services, in-person or online, actually improved significantly!

Rosmarin goes on to say that studies show that nearly 60% of psychiatric patients have a desire to discuss spirituality with their psychiatrist yet are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to do so. He says we can blame it on Freud and his characterization of religion as a mass-delusion. We see this trend in suggestions by both the American Psychological Association’s and Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for coping with the pandemic. The only near-mention of religion is the CDC’s recommendation to “connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.” The author goes on to say, “we ignore potential spiritual solutions to our mental health crisis, even when our well-being is worse than ever before.”

According to this study and another, “a belief in God is associated with significantly better treatment outcomes for acute psychiatric patients. And other laboratories have shown a connection between religious belief and the thickness of the brain’s cortex, which may help protect against depression.” He also concluded that “many nonreligious people still seek spirituality, especially in times of distress.”

Now, sit back and take all that in for a moment.

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Lessons Learned From the Game

We are deep into NFL Football Playoff Season, when every highlight, every victory speech, and every cooler of Gatorade poured is shown on the news, ESPN, YouTube, Instagram, and every other outlet. I always wanted to be a football player. When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was play football in our backyard. I still remember the names of most of the other kids–Lex, Kelly, Danny, Jason, Paul, Jerry, Steve, and David (and I’m talking @1975-1978 when I was 5-8 years old)–kids who were my age and as much as five years older. Notice that these were all boys! I was the only girl on my street and learned an early life lesson in keeping up with the boys!

My father had the nicest grass in the neighborhood, and we had a pretty sizable backyard, so everyone gathered to play football there on a regular basis. That was my first introduction to the game that my parents watched every Sunday while I played Barbies in my bedroom. Because it was my yard, I got to play whatever position I wanted, but looking back, I’m pretty sure the guys made up whatever position I played since I had no clue and was a lot younger than most of them! I actually do remember them giving me the ball sometimes, and I thought I was the biggest playmaker on the field. With a start like that, how could I not fall in love with the game?

By the time I was in middle school, I was a football watcher. Oh, how I idolized Tami Maida, whose story was told in the movie Quarterback Princess (starring Helen Hunt, 1983). I still remember the 1982-1983 season and the amazing Riggins run in Super Bowl XVII in which the Redskins beat the Dolphins 27-17. We even attended the parade in DC after the win. Our school principal, Sister Victoire, actually closed school that day so that everyone who wanted to could attend, a great lesson in knowing that sometimes learning from experiences is more important than learning in a classroom.

As a lifelong fan of professional football, I’ve made many observations of what happens both on and off the field. I think there are many aspects of the game that can be translated into life lessons for everyone.

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Lightening Your Burden

Last week, most of the Mid-Atlantic was covered with a soft blanket of white. It has become a rare thing to see a foot of snow here on the Eastern Shore, and our family enjoyed the beauty of the falling snow as well as the beauty of being together. Morgan and her best friend, Cat, abandoned the confines of being adults and revisited their childhood, finding joy in the falling snow. I loved watching them play outside like they used to do when they were little, unmindful of the snow and the cold.

The day after it snowed, I got up early and took my phone outside to capture some photos of the snow-covered world. Everything around me was enchanting – the way the snow clung to the branches, the pines that bent to the earth, the sun that shone through the trees and glistened on the white surfaces, even the lonely pinecone that clung to a tree, determined to hang on even as the snow weighed it down.

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Marriage Requires Love

Last week, my daughter sent me a link to an article in the New York Times. The article upset her, and she knew I would have the same reaction. She was correct.

In Marriage Requires Amnesia, Heather Havrilesky presents a section from her new book (coming in February), Foreverland, On the Divine Tedium of Marriage. Unable to read the book as it hasn’t yet been published, I can only glean info about Heather and her marriage from this article. And the article makes me profoundly sad and even angry.

With passages like this: “Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely. I don’t know anyone who’s been married more than seven years who flinches at this concept. A spouse is a blessing and a curse wrapped into one. How could it be otherwise? How is hatred not the natural outcome of sleeping so close to another human for years?”

How can one not take umbrage to the sentiment?

The writer goes on to list everything she hates about her husband from his daily habits–“He is exactly the same as a heap of laundry: smelly, inert, almost sentient but not quite”–to the way he sneezes and how he clears his throat. And though she says he is exactly the same person she met seventeen years ago, she can’t stand the man that he was and is. “This is just how it feels to be doomed to live and eat and sleep next to the same person until you’re dead. Because the resolution on your spouse becomes clearer and clearer by the year, you must find compensatory ways to blur and pixelate them back into a soft, muted, faintly fantastical fog.”

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New Year, New Chapter

Merry 5th Day of Christmas! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas weekend and is looking forward to the new year.

2021 wasn’t all that much better than 2020. With the exception of things opening and the promising vaccines and treatments, the fear rippling through our world remains, especially with non-stop news coverage of the dire situation we’re in. Despite the vaccines and treatments and lower risks strains, everyone is still being told that this is practically the end stages of Armageddon. Of course, if that is the case, I know that I had better step up my game before that final day of judgment!

The point is, there’s a lot of hope that 2022 will be a game changer. We want life to go back to normal, to be able to spend time with friends and family without fear, and to travel, go to the theater, and do all the things we used to do (and without masks). No matter how you feel about the virus or the treatments or the masks, I’m sure you hope that the day will be here soon when we can live like it’s 2019!

And that has me thinking…

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A Time for Rejoicing

For the past few months, I’ve been leading a study of the Wisdom Literature–the books of Wisdom, Sirach, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and the letter of James along with passages from other books sprinkled in. It’s funny how often the themes of these studies, while I’m in the midst of them, appear throughout all parts of my life. It’s a constant barrage of messages reminding me what I’m supposed to be taking from these lessons and discussions.

A couple weeks ago, I read to the women this beautiful passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. 

Philippians 4:4-9

The following week, I stepped in to lector at Mass when the lector was unable to be there. Guess what the reading was…

Philippians 4:4-9.

A few days later, Father Mike‘s reading in his Bible in a Year Podcast was…

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Seeking Peace

Peace of mind.

What exactly is that? How can we achieve it? How can we maintain it? Is is even possible to feel peace during this hectic season?

How can we have peace of mind when there are gifts to buy, groceries to pick up, houses to clean, decorations to be put up, parties to be thrown, presents to wrap, families to visit, and so many church services to attend?

Hallmark paints the picture of the perfect Christmas, complete with sugar cookies that are made, rolled, baked, and decorated in an hour’s time; the fullest and tallest Christmas tree in the lot which fits perfectly in the house and is decorated in minutes (with no fumbling with blown-out strands of lights); and people singing “Oh, Christmas Tree” on every corner (seriously, someone please tell them that this is nobody’s favorite song). In reality, sugar cookies take hours (sometimes days) to complete from beginning to end; trees often look more like one chosen by Charlie Brown (don’t get me started on the lights); and we often overlook the songs that truly tell of the meaning of Christmas.

“Sleep in Heavenly peace” may be sung, but is it taken to heart? While the Babe in the manger sleeps in peace, what about us? Are our days “calm and bright”or chaotic and dark?

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Worth Serving For

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It’s a somber anniversary, not like a wedding or an occasion for a grand party. However, it is something to be remembered, and there is something to celebrate.

Pearl Harbor Dec 7, 1941

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base on the remote island of Hawaii where they destroyed or damaged almost 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and over 300 airplanes. More than 2,400 Americans died in that attack, a number of them civilians, and another 1,000 people were wounded. It was after this event that President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare War on Japan, thus thrusting our American Service Men and Women into World War II.

Photo Credit – https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor#&gid=ci023944f6f00027a8&pid=1-pearl-harbor-photo-gallery-getty-3090085

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You Are Not A Wave

Mitch Albom said, in his wonderful book, Tuesdays, with Morrie, “You’re not a wave, you’re a part of the ocean.”

This quote has hit me more than once over the past few days as I walk along the deck or watch from the stern of the ship or stroll on a beach. I watch the waves that roll in and out, blanketing the sand and then drawing back with them anything caught in the tide. Sometimes, in the early morning or late evening, I stand at the railing and watch the wake of the ship, foaming up from under the berth and fanning out into the open ocean.

The world looks so vast from this vantage point–ongoing, endless, infinitesimal. It’s hard to tell where the Earth ends and where the Universe begins. It’s easy to feel like we’re small and insignificant in comparison, powerless even. Even the clouds, mere collections of air and water, seem bigger, stronger, and mightier than I am.

It’s like I’m no more than a tiny puff of air in the immense cosmos.

And then…

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Preserving Tradition

I have wonderful memories of holiday meals with my extended family. We would all gather for every major holiday–Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter–and most of the minor holidays–Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and often Independence Day.

The faces at the table changed over time. Babies came, loved ones passed, and new husbands or wives appeared. Always present, though, was the love for each other. And the Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham.

When Ken and I got married, I insisted on a complete, traditional Southern Maryland fall menu. That had to include stuffed ham. My Dad and my grandmother spent days making enough stuffed ham for 300 people. Ken’s Eastern Shore relatives never again saw holidays meals the same way. Each time we returned from Thanksgiving or Christmas at my Mom’s house, Ken’s family asked, “Did you bring back any stuffed ham?”

Looking back, I’m amazed that Dad and Gram pulled off this feat for my wedding. Stuffed Ham is not your average meat.

If you look closely at the Thanksgiving picture above, you will see the stuffed ham in the middle of the table. “What’s all that green stuff?” you may ask. That, my friend, is the stuffing. It’s not your average stuffing made of some kind of bread and mild spices. This ham is stuffed with a bushel of fresh, leafy kale and a boatload of hot, savory spices. It’s unlike anything you’ve had before, and unlike anything you will have anywhere other than St. Mary’s County, Maryland (yes, Charles County and a small area of Virginia have their own versions of stuffed ham, but it’s not the same) and small parts of Kentucky to which early Marylanders migrated.

While the dish itself is one of the most unique you could ever have, it’s the process and the history that really make this truly different and special.

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