COVID-19: A Matter of Spirituality and Health

Originally posted on the Candler School of Theology Enthused Blog:

My first lessons on holistic living I learned running through in my grandparents’ gardens and shelling peas on the front porch while listening to my grandfather read the Bible. It was in my grandmother’s kitchen that I cultivated the understanding that what we ingest (food or words) and what we practice directly affects how we feel and how we relate. For sure, the Bible, the garden, and bodily movement provided the impetus for my theological and academic interest in what I have come to know as holistic salvation.

For me, holistic salvation is health and wholeness of the body, mind, and spirit, in the community, the environment, and world systems. During my time at Candler, soteriology—the doctrine of salvation—in all of its forms, became so much of an interest for me that I was inspired to learn as much as I could and then share it with others. Salvation for all of God’s people, throughout all of God’s creation, in every aspect of life is an intentional, communal process. Spirituality and health creates a vehicle through which salvation is realized.

The concept of spirituality and health grows from the same garden of my childhood. By its very definition, spirituality is about relationship—with God, self, others, and the environment. Likewise, health encompasses the emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual aspects of our wellbeing, which is impacted by the nature of our relationships. That is to say, spirituality and health is a communal endeavor. Globally, COVID-19 shines a glaring light on the quality of our relationships in every dimension, and therefore, underscores the importance of understanding spirituality and health as interrelated and interconnected. The following are some examples of the intersections of spirituality and health during the pandemic:

  • Places of worship and other communal spaces may either prevent or cause the spread of disease.
  • Spiritual practices help to manage the anxiety and stress of quarantine and illness.
  • Race, gender, and class continue to be indicators of access to adequate healthcare. At the end of the day, holistic salvation and spirituality and health teach us that flattening the curve is an act of salvation.

In an effort to cull the depths of spirituality and health, on April 7 I co-led a workshop for the Candler community alongside Charles Howard Candler Professor of Pastoral Theology and Spiritual Care Emmanuel Lartey and Assistant Professor in the Practice of Practical Theology Ellen Shepard. This virtual gathering allowed us to share insights on what spirituality is and its connection to physical health, mental health, and spiritual practice.

We also wanted to provide a space in which students could engage and share their own spiritual practices that help to manage such extraordinary times. We were reminded that together we make up the Body of Christ, and no one thrives without the support of others. As spiritual caregivers, we must be vigilant in our efforts to take care of ourselves. Suggestions from around our virtual community include: cooking good food; listening to music; carve out time to read for pleasure; light exercise; limit news intake; establish and maintain appointments with one’s own pastor, counselor, or spiritual director. These are just a few ways in which we can replenish ourselves as we take care of others.

Throughout this Lenten season and into Easter, the concept of spirituality and health typifies the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus, Christ incarnate, models for us what it means to be deeply connected with God and with our communities. Indeed, by the gift of God’s grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, healing and wholeness are available to us. To be clear, wholeness does not mean perfect health or normative ideals on physical ability. It means that we live fully as human beings created in the likeness and image of God. In the midst of a global pandemic, physical, mental, and spiritual health are our primary concerns. Furthermore, practices that facilitate health and wellbeing inspire hope for ourselves and others for the days ahead.