Dear Spirit of Life Friends,
Time and again in scripture we read about how Jesus and his disciples met with and healed people who were described in that day and age as being full of demons. From Luke 8:
Then (Jesus and the disciples) arrived at the region of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As Jesus stepped out on shore, a man from the city who had demons met him. For a long time the man had not worn any clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me,” for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
And time and again today, here and now, we encounter people in our lives who also suffer in the way the man in Luke 8 did. They are our neighbors, our friends, our family members, and ourselves. We are in the midst of a mental health crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) offers these current statistics:
That last one - suicide as the second leading cause of death for our very young people - takes my breath away. The second leading cause! This can all feel overwhelming - and there are ways we can help.
It is critical that we continue to pray to God and intercede on behalf of our country as these mental health challenges wash over individuals who are suffering and institutions that aren’t equipped to help. God accompanies us on this journey of life and speaks words of love and belonging over our lives, especially when we are suffering.
And ... many of you have already heard me talk about a book I recently read, The Awakened Brain, by Lisa Miller, Ph.D. It has captivated me deeply. Dr. Miller’s research demonstrates that all humans have the capacity for spirituality. And that when we are encouraged and inspired to explore spirituality, our brains become more resilient and robust. Spirituality can literally grow and nurture healthy brains. It can create resilience and optimism.
Dr. Miller’s research was fueled in part by her own spiritual experiences (she is Jewish) and by the ways in which spirituality helped individual patients with whom she worked. She witnessed with her own eyes how a connection to faith changed and improved the lives of those who live with mental illness. She was also told, more than once, that spirituality did not have a place in mental health care. So she set out to discover whether that was true. Watch this video (TW: suicide) to learn more about the findings in The Awakened Brain.
So what do we, as Lutheran Christians, as part of Spirit of Life, do with this information? Can we help alleviate the pain and suffering of so many people? Well, we can try, and we can ask God to help and guide us. My friend Nita Baer, is the one who asked me to read The Awakened Brain. She was excited to share it with her friends of faith. Nita is a mental health counselor with more than 40 years of experience. She has a long history of work with young children. She is also a faithful, lovely Christian human with a heart for Jesus and a heart for people. She will join us at Spirit of Life for several events over the weekend of July 21-23.
On Friday, July 21, from 5:15 to 6:15 pm, in our sanctuary, Nita will offer a teaching session on The Awakened Brain that is geared for anyone caring for young children. Nita will share the research and also talk about ways in which integrating spirituality and faith into the lives of children can help them grow resiliency and emotional health. Please plan to attend if little ones are part of your world. We have shared this with our Little Doves families as well in hopes that they can attend. Nita will speak for a significant portion of the hour, and she will also leave time for questions and answers. We will offer free childcare. In addition, the session will be recorded and shared on our website and social media. If you would like to attend this event on Friday, July 21, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “The Awakened Brain” in the subject line.
On Sunday, July 23, Nita will join us in our regular 10 am worship. For the sermon portion of our worship, I will interview Nita about The Awakened Brain. She will share from the book, and also her own insights as a Christian and a therapist about how we can help address mental health. After worship, Nita will be available for an informal question and answer session.
I pray that this will be an exciting and life giving time in our congregation as we continue to discern what it means to unpack complexity and to live in response to the Good News of God in Christ Jesus by helping others in meaningful ways.
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