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Q&A: Addressing the spirit

The Rev. Dr. David Robins, minister of The Congregational Society, Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough works with people everyday on spiritual matters as well as life-changing events. In what follows, he helps us sort out the interconnections between health and faith, the body and one’s spirit.

Does believing in a higher power and prayer impact one’s health? If yes, how so?

No one has ever complained to me that they have an overdeveloped spiritual life and that their work life is suffering from neglect! The opposite is usually true, which leads people to complain about being “out of balance.” Scientific studies aside, anecdotal evidence shows me that a spiritual practice often has a positive impact upon one’s physical and emotional health.

What does the path of maintaining one’s health look like, feel like? How do we know we’re on the right path?

Good health is a complex topic, involving diet, mental and physical exercise, a living wage, tolerable stress, spiritual renewal and other factors. Health involves the body, mind and spirit. Experience tells me that my own overall health is balanced and improved when I focus on all three areas: Eating healthy food in moderation; regular physical and mental exercise; and time for personal prayer and meditation, and service to others.

How does one know when a health-related matter has something to do with the suffering of the spirit? And what is the solution?

This feeling of spiritual connection does have an impact upon coping with difficult health issues and situations. Viktor Frankl, a death camp survivor developed a philosophy which suggests that the one thing that cannot be taken away from us is our attitude toward a particular situation. So even in the face of great suffering, one’s attitude can give one meaning and hope. Several members of my family, who were disabled early in life, and who suffered through many health-related brushes with death, found great comfort in their belief in God, a belief which provided meaning even in their disability. Belief in a higher power does not necessarily lead to health, but it can be the spiritual resource that helps us face health problems. Some might dismissively call such a belief “a crutch.” But I have yet to find a person who isn’t “limping” in some manner.

What are the pros and cons of taking part in a
spiritual community?

Studies show that belonging to a religious community seems to have a positive impact upon health and longevity. This is not to say that everyone has to belong to a religious community, or think alike or believe alike in order to receive the benefits of religious community. Whether you find your spiritual community among people, or while paddling across a lake or hiking a mountain, this unifying experience makes us feel connected to a mysterious power that sustains and upholds life. In this way we feel we are part of an interdependent web of existence, embraced in the universe.

With the demands of work, family and community, where does feeding the spirit come in? How do we
integrate our spiritual paths with everyday life?

With the demands of work, family, volunteer service and taking care of the home, balancing body, mind and spirit can be difficult. Distractions and challenges are before us every minute of the day. For this reason, I have adopted an attitude of bringing a “BELL” to daily living. I seek to: Believe in hopeful outcomes. Encourage others. Love the people and the environment with whom I come into contact. Laugh and share laughter (or cultivate a sense of humor). This is my “BELL” and I pray and meditate upon how to hear it’s call each day, and how to share it with others. In this way my emotional and spiritual health is nurtured. With this “BELL” I seek to nurture spiritual connections with the each and All.

—Interview by Priscilla Morrill

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